All Hallow’s Eve is just a fortnight away, and the Staff is deep in preparations. Mind you, a lot of those are just fun and games: putting up decorations and scurrying around with secret costume plans. Some of the more inventive around here won’t be able to move for the weight of their guisings on the night itself. Those who are already done are creeping about vying for dibs on copies of Charles Vess’ The Book of Ballads – we’re giving them away this coming month, and they are the most anticipated Treat in the place: a entire book/bag of bittersweets by the likes of Jane Yolen and Neil Gaiman.
It’s a busy month in the gardens, but I am leading from the rear at the moment; sitting here and watching the main courtyard, wondering if the great oak there is going to win this year’s contest with my lads pruning deadwood. Our esteemed cook Mrs. Ware has requested my feedback, as it were, on an experimental batch of triple Brie and fig scones for the annual Halloween feast, and it’s my pleasure to sit and give it my deepest attention. That woman brings inspiration to a plate of crackers and cheese; what she does to a risen dough enters the realm of the sacred …
For the Kitchen Staff, Reynard’s Tap Crew, and for my own lads in the garden, there’s a lot of real work leading up to Samhain celebrations. Mrs. W. is, as I said, already cooking: she’s been laying aside a veritable treasure trove of pickles, relishes, butters, marinades, sauces, curds, creams and other culinary conceits — when the freshly baked and just roasted masterpieces hit the tables, they will be accompanied by her usual astonishing condiments. Do you fancy pork roast rolled in leeks and apples, with whipped sweet potatoes in a cognac sauce? And new bread? Well, plan to move fast when it’s served, then, because so do I.
Reynard, of course, is both laying in appropriate potables and fretting over the batches brewed here specifically for All Hallow’s. All this month he’s been serving Headless Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Halloween Ale in the Pub. Come try a pint, but be careful! I’m told the name is not only seasonal, but a fair warning of the effects of over-indulgence. And there are the porters, the stouts, the dark brews like liquid bread that are required for this holiday; the cider and perry and aged brandies to keep off the growing chill and light the holiday bonfires in us all.
The Endless Session has been having night ceilidhs in the gardens, before the nights get too cold and they retreat to the Pub for the winter. Autumn evenings the wind rises in the woods, and gives the music in the courtyards a special pace and chorus … the secret’s in the pruning, of course, though I doubt the Session has figured that out. But I go out and do the trimming myself, tuning the oaks like an Aolian harp, so their voices will be clear on All Hallow’s night.
Most of all, though, my lads and I are responsible for the bonfires. No one cuts wood in my gardens except me and mine, and at this time of year I’m just as particular about the fallen wood as I am about the trimmed. That wood’s been gathered and stacked with great deliberation, you know. The Halloween bonfires have to be carefully planned, and meticulously built; I daresay the mix of firewood I use is as complicated as Mrs. Wares’ pumpkin butter or Reynard’s Samhain Stout. It needs a particular scent, a notable stamina and even special colour … which is why that one oak has to be pruned just so. The eastern boughs have seen soaking up the salt mist and should burn like tourmalines. It will make the perfect King Log … if that fool Andrew doesn’t hang himself with that guy rope!
Hi! Look sharp, lads! What are you about? We don’t do that anymore…