Well, here it is…September. When I started writing this post, I was in Scotland, visiting my family, and it looked like Summer had been side-stepped and Autumn had begun. I was tapping away on my laptop, wrapped up in a jumper I’d just bought (yes, I’m already shopping for jumpers) and a large scarf. As I looked outside at the grey and blustery sky, the trees swaying from side to side, I had a rather depressed looking dog sitting in his basket (he doesn’t like the rain) feeling sorry for himself. I was ready to fully embrace Autumn.
However, I am now back in London, where I live, and it looks like we’re basking in an Indian Summer! This week the temperature is due to reach the dizzying heights of 26°C/79°F. Not bad! So, depending on where you are reading this, you could either be shivering through the wind and rain or making the most of the sun.
Whatever the case, at least we know there are some lovely Autumnal fruits and vegetables coming into season. The first thing I think of when I think of September is blackberries…
I love blackberries. I love the look of them…the plump, glossy, luscious darkness of them, like jewels sitting on a hedgerow, waiting to be picked. I love the sweet and juicy taste of them. They are so versatile…delicious in pies, puddings, crumbles, fools, jams, especially when paired with the first of the season’s apples. The slight acidity of blackberries also work well with rich or gamey meat, such as venison, lamb or pheasant.
Blackberries, can be gathered as soon as they ripen from red fruit into dark, plump berries and can be eaten fresh or preserved into excellent jelly or jam. This is the perfect time to eat blackberries. Early in the season they’re still a little tart so are best eaten with a sprinkling of sugar but by now they should be beautiful and sweet and perfect in pies and crumbles. I made a gorgeous apple and blackberry crumble at the weekend.
If you aren’t in a position to pick blackberries and instead are buying them from a farm shop or supermarket, look for dark, plump, shiny, firm berries. You will need to eat them fresh if you want them at their best, as they do not keep for long. If you want to keep them for later in the year, they freeze very well. Just spread them in a single layer on a tray and freeze them before transferring to a container, or simmer them briefly and freeze the resulting purée.
And of course the perfect partner to the blackberry is the apple. Apples are coming into their own right now and will stay in season until the end of November.
There are thought to be over 7,000 varieties of apple. They are a fantastic and versatile fruit…there are sharp apples, sweet apples, crunchy apples, softer-fleshed apples, red apples, yellow apples, green apples and everything in between.
Many are perfect for enjoying on their own as a healthy snack but they really come into their own when used as an ingredient in cooking and baking. They can be transformed into some of the most wonderful desserts, especially when combined with caramel, cinnamon or blackberries. What can be better than an apple tarte tatin or an apple pie or crumble? Or you can of course use them to accompany most pork dishes.
Personally, I much prefer picking apples off the tree or buying them at a farmer’s market. I have a problem with the way many supermarkets choose their apples. They seem to prioritise appearance over taste. I never understand supermarkets preference for generic looking fruit. I like gnarled fruit and vegetables with a bit of character.
That aside, when buying apples, you should look for firm apples with taught, unbroken skins. Many varieties have naturally freckled or dull matt surfaces – don’t shy away from those without the high-sheen finish supermarkets have led us to expect. The odd blemish on apples grown with low/no pesticides is nothing to be afraid of. The fragrance of an apple is a good indicator of freshness and quality.
All varieties of apple fall into one of two categories: eating, also sometimes called dessert apples (including Cox’s Orange Pippin, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Braeburn, Gala, Pink Lady and Jonagold) or cooking, with the latter being more tart in flavour, (the best is Bramley, though Blenheim Orange, Grenadier, Reverend W Wilkes and Ida Red are also available).
And now onto one of my favourite foods…mushrooms…
I love mushrooms in much the same way as I love aubergines. Maybe I could be a vegetarian afterall! I’m slightly obsessive about mushrooms. I add them to most meals and I will always order a dish in a restaurant that includes them.
While many mushrooms are now grown all year round, early autumn is the traditional season for wild fungi, offering the most abundant and varied seasonal eating. This month you can find closed cup, oyster, cep, chanterelle and chestnut varieties in most supermarkets.
If you are going to forage for wild mushrooms yourself, please be careful. Never eat any fungus that you are not absolutely certain has been identified correctly. Use a good field guide, but don’t rely absolutely on pictures in books – differences between fungi can be difficult to spot. Ideally, go out with an experienced guide.
Personally, I love frying up mushrooms in butter and serving them on top of a large slice of sour dough toast with lots of flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper on top. That, to me, is perfect. I also love wild mushroom risotto. I recently had one of the best mushroom risottos I’ve ever tasted at The Gate restaurant in Islington. You can see my write-up here. The addition of truffle oil through it really brought it to life. It was incredible.
There are so many different types of mushroom. If you’re looking for them in the supermarket, large flat (Portobello) mushrooms have more flavour than young buttons, and chestnut mushrooms tend to have a slightly stronger taste and firmer, meatier texture than ordinary white ones. It just depends on your preference.
artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, celery, chillies, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, french beans, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, lambs lettuce, leeks, lettuces & salad leaves, mangetout, marrow, onions, parsnips, pak choi, peas, peppers, potatoes (maincrop), radishes, rocket, runner beans, shallots, spinach, spring onions, swede, sweetcorn, turnips, watercress
apples, blackberries, blueberries, damsons, figs, grapes, greengages, loganberries, pears, plums, raspberries, redcurrants
HERBS, FLOWERS, FUNGHI, NUTS
basil, chestnuts, chives, cob nuts, coriander, oregano, mint, parsley (curly), parsley (flat leaf), mushrooms (cultivated), mushrooms (wild), rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, walnuts
beef, chicken, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, hare, lamb, mallard, partridge, pheasant, pork, rabbit, turkey, venison, wood pigeon
FISH & SEAFOOD
brill, clams, cockles, cod, coley, conger eel, crab, dover sole, eel, grey mullet, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, john dory, lemon sole, lobster, mackerel, monkfish, mussels, oysters, pilchard, pollack, plaice, prawns, scallops, sea bass, sea bream, sea trout, shrimp, skate, squid, turbot, whelks, winkles