A highlight of the England trip was a visit to one of the premier examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. Designed by Robert Smythson it took 12 years to build and was mostly completed by 1580 for Sir John Thynn (1515-1580). He was also the builder of the house and the ancestor of the current owner of the house, Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath (1932-). John Thynn began life as a clerk in the kitchen of Henry VIII and quickly accrued great wealth and power (and 2 turns in the Tower for sketchy financing). He bought the property for £53 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536-39.
Photography is not allowed in the house but from their literature …
Red Library (one of 7 in the house with 40,000 books dispersed among them!)
State Dining Room
and Saloon (28 meters long)
are really something to see. It is vast and positively oozing history from every artwork and stick of furniture in a style that is hard to grasp these days.
Have you ever seen Bill Gate’s house?? It is devoid of any level of art or craftsmanship and aside from an ridiculous level of technology, just a largish place. What fun is being one of the wealthiest men in the world if that’s the best you can do with your money? Do you think it will be around in 500 years?
Not so at Longleat. You can see where the money went. However, the insanely rich interior with nearly 500 years layering in most of the public part of the house contrasts mightily with the current Lord Bath’s rather mad murals.
Lord Bath is something of an eccentric in the classic English sense. Known for his “polyamorous lifestyle with “wifelets” according to Wikipedia (this part was not in the Longleat literature—surprise!), he is a tireless decorator/artist of his enormous family house and a separate tour of his work can be seen when visiting the house. It takes up a special wing of Longleat.
There are also 900 acres of park designed by Capability Brown and 8,000 acres of woods and farmland. It is unfathomably enormous. There is even a Safari Park!!!
Lord Bath (in his signature colorful vest) with 75 year-old Amos the Tortoise
And the gardens… the gardens are beautifully maintained and luxuriant in July.
Hedge Maze made of 16,000 yew trees that takes up 1.48 acres (commissioned in 1976)
Have I mentioned that England is perfumed with lavender at this time of year? It is everywhere from the humblest cottage garden to the grandest house. I would say it perfumed my visit and I will never be able to smell lavender without remembering this time here (I had never been to England in the middle of summer before). Longleat was rich with lavender in its acres of gardens.
In honor of my scented memories, I wanted to share a recipe for Quail with Lavender that my friend and astonishing opera singer Robert Osborne shared with me a few years back ( I added the smoking element -- his recipe was simply grilled). I was an absolute coward about cooking quail. For any of you who have put this off out of fear that they are difficult to work with... let me assure you, not so!!! Just the opposite! After I made it I could kick myself for waiting so long. I am grateful the inspiration of English Lavender pushed me to do it because the combination of rosé and lavender is sensational with quail (or any poultry, I suspect).
You may wonder, where to get quail? Not to worry, the wonderful people at D’Artagnan have the loveliest little birds around and can send them anywhere for you. As I’ve mentioned before, I am lucky enough to have them as neighbors. Their quail is the most flavorful, the Coturnix breed. They are free-range and raised without antibiotics or hormones yielding a rich, flavorful meat. You can have them delivered easily by going HERE Honestly, for something so special they are very inexpensive.
Quail with Lavender Onions Serves 2 Main Course, 4 Appetizer
1 bottle rosé wine
2 T honey (preferably lavender otherwise any mild honey)
1 ½ T orange zest
1 large clove garlic, smashed
2 T olive oil
4 branches fresh lavender plus 1 t flowers
salt & pepper
4 butterflied quail
1 pound pearl or small onions
2 T butter
1 T red wine vinegar
3 T jasmine tea
3 T jasmine flowers
2 tiny pine branches (8’’ size and not thicker than a toothpick) with a few sprigs of needles cut up quite small (altogether this should be 1 c worth, loosely packed)
2 T brown sugar
- Reserve 1 cup wine. Place the rest of the wine in a saucepan, and simmer until wine is reduced to 1 ½ c. Add 1 T honey, 1 T orange zest, garlic, oil and lavender branches. Set aside until cool, then strain. Season with S & P
- Place the wine mixture in a large bowl and add the quail and marinate 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, place the onions in a saucepan with water to cover. Simmer 3 minutes. Drain and cut off the root ends and peel.
- Heat butter in medium skillet. Add onions, remaining honey and vinegar. Cook until onions start to brown. Add remaining wine and ½ T orange zest. Continue cooking until liquid is syrupy.
- Line a wok with heavy foil and put the smoke mixture in it. Place quails on a rack that will fit inside the wok, put them in the wok then turn up the heat until the mixture is smoking and turn down the heat to low. Smoke for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them midway. They should only be warm to the touch. (** If you have a charcoal grill, the smoking and cooking can be done at once. Just place the smoke mixture in an aluminum toss-away container and moisten, then put on the cooler part of the grill with the lid closed till they smoke, put the birds on and cook the quails 3-5 minutes on each side until just cooked through).
- If you are not grilling, heat the butter in a skillet (or 2) large enough to hold the birds. Pat them dry and cook till brown and lovely on the skin side and then flip them to finish cooking. This should take no more than 8 minutes
- Remove the quails to a platter and tent. Add any pan juices to onions. Briefly re-heat onion mixture and correct seasonings. Stir in lavender flowers and serve with the quail.