The early mornings are now cooler but by late morning the light mists burn off to reveal the atmospheric, pale autumn sunlight. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn colour, with a promise of blazing reds and burnt oranges soon to come. In the UK you need to pace yourself though because spring is a long way off. Celebrating the changing seasons is a form of mindfulness or meditation. Taking things slowly, enjoying the simple daily pleasures of changing landscapes and seasonal food, autumn is a time of year to truly indulge the senses.
This is the time of year that I’m most likely to relax over a leisurely cooked breakfast on a Sunday morning, especially if it’s cold and rainy outside. A long walk on a crisp sunny autumn day followed by a late roast with all the trimmings makes for the perfect Sunday.
Homemade soups are a staple from now until spring. A simple way to use up leftover vegetables, adding a few extras such as homemade vegetable crisps and a good cheese makes a bowl into a hearty lunch or light supper. Root vegetable soups pair well with seasonal clementines and fresh walnuts or cob nuts for dessert. Add a glass of your favourite tipple to ‘warm your cockles’.
This is the time for seasonal English apples. Despite there being around 2,500 varieties grown, the supermarkets only stock the same three or four year in, year out. Search out more variety at farm shops and heritage garden shops. The traditional apple dishes are still the best. Apple crumble, or pie with sweet shortcrust pastry, and a dollop of creme fraiche or custard make for comforting puddings. Apples are also excellent in savoury dishes from soups, where they pair well with root vegetables, and meat dishes like a pork casserole or the classic apple sauce with roast pork. If you’re lucky enough to have a surplus, cook to a puree or ‘apple sauce’ with a little cider and freeze to last over the winter season, adding yogurt or porridge for breakfast or dessert.
Calabria Baked Fig Ball by Italian food specialists, Seggiano. Excellent with a strong salty feta.
Recently, I was tried an Italian Baked Fig Ball. I’ve always enjoyed pan de higo, the Spanish fig cake often made with almonds. The fig ball is similar except the figs are softened completely by baking, then shaped into a ball and wrapped in fig leaves. This also intensifies their treacle-y flavour. The taste is darkly sweet and fruity like a festive figgy pudding. I paired it with a salty feta cheese (sheep’s and goat’s milk makes the best tangy cheese) for a delicious mingle of sweet and sour flavours. The fig ball would make an unusual Christmas gift too. Calabria Baked Fig Ball. £5.85 (200g). www.seggiano.com.
A warming amontillado sherry is a favourite tipple from now until Christmas. As a change from a non-fortified wine, sherry’s robust flavours pair so well with homemade soups, fresh walnuts and a good strong cheese.
A gift of Blue Aurora English Blueberry Ice Wine proved to be a new discovery. The aromas are those of dark berries, as you would expect, but surprisingly there’s also a floral touch of rose petals, and candied violet which reminded me of my grandmother who was partial to parma violets. The wine paired beautifully with a manchego cheese although the smooth, fruit flavours would work equally well as an alternative to crème de cassis in a French kir cocktail. The seductively rich colour is matched by the dark fruity flavours of the blueberries, even though fresh berries do not have the same depth of flavour as, say, blackberries. A light acidity saves it from being cloying. This is a very grown up wine. Serve chilled, with the manchego at room temperature to bring out the rounded, slightly tangy, creamy flavours to complement.
I also tried Blue Aurora Ice with a dark chocolately prune whip, made with luscious Agen prunes from France. The recipe originates from a vintage cookery book which uses oranges. Instead, in a mini blender add five or six plump soaked and cooked prunes, coconut or dairy yogurt to suit, a teaspoon or two of raw cacao powder and a dash of cinammon. Blend until fairly smooth. Spoon into pretty dessert dishes, or your favourite wine glass, dust with raw cacao powder and chill for a couple of hours or so.
Blue Aurora English Blueberry Ice Wine is made by the family-run Lutton Farm, just outside the market town of Oundle. It’s a happy by-product of the farm’s fruit growing concern. 37.5cl. Alc 10.5% vol. £17.95. https://blueaurorawine.co.uk
Autumn is the perfect time to forage the hedgerows for blackberries, rose hips and cob nuts. It goes without saying that foragers need to be mindful of sustainability so don’t strip the bush, leave some for others and the birds. Or you might be lucky enough to find somewhere offering fresh walnuts. Traditional English seasonal apples and pears, rarely or never seen in the shops, are well worth seeking out right now. Cook them without sugar and instead add a splash of vintage cider, and spices like cinnamon, for a quick autumn dessert or breakfast with yogurt or creme fraiche. A spoonful of mincemeat added at the end is good too as are the traditional blackberries. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a bag of apples, accept gratefully and prepare them for the freezer to last through the winter months.
Do you like to forage ad what’s your most memorable find? I’ll be foraging later this month with an expert forager in the Sussex countryside and will let you know how we get on.