There has to be some consolation as summer fades along with the holiday tan, and autumn slams up against the door. Comfort comes in the abundance of food and drink ready for plucking, slurping and cooking right now. There’s just enough warmth left in the sun to ripen the fat, juicy, black damsons, pears and quinces dripping from the trees. And expect to see a profusion of squash, from warty, misshapen globes to brightly coloured pumpkin and petal-shaped patty pans, ripe and ready for steaming, mashing or roasting.
Wild mushrooms are now littering the forest floor and we are blessed with a wealth of species, from Shaggy Inkcaps and Penny Buns to Puffballs and Chanterelles. Despite a surge of interest in mushrooming here, we still don’t have the resources in pharmacies for accurate identification of fungi, as they do in other European countries. So, without wanting to patronise, if you want to ensure that what you take home does not become your last supper, “Don’t know, don’t pick”. Most leading supermarkets and farmers markets sell them anyway.
The warm spring and wet summer has caused jubilation in apple orchards up and down the land, with record crops this year. Good news for all of us, as it means we will have British varieties for longer.
If you are a cider drinker, you too should be jumping for joy, with presses across the south-west working overtime. And on the liquid theme, UK vineyards are revving up for harvest, so fingers crossed for a warm dry September. Despite a racing start from the warm spring, cold and wet could still undo all the good work.
One of my autumn favourites, and thankfully now on the hip-superfoods list, is the Kentish Cobnut. Even if you don’t like the sweet, coconut-like taste, you have to admit that a bowlful of them (essentially young, unripe hazelnuts) looks damn pretty. The earliest cobnuts are tender enough to simply bite into, and make a healthy snack, but nutcrackers are needed as they toughen up.
These young morsels are delicious, too, when roughly chopped, adding a great crunch to salads. Toasted, they are sublime with fresh cheese or piled on to a bowl of ice cream. The nuts will keep for some time, but I prefer them fresh, so for me the next best thing is to buy bottled goodness in the form of Cobnut Oil, made, used and stored in much the same way as olive oil. With over one kilo of the nuts per bottle, it has to be good for you.
Meanwhile, rapidly cooling waters off the UK coasts means our oily fish are at their best, so grab some mackerel, sardines or anchovies and get frying. With game still flooding in too, it seems the autumn feast has all bases covered.
My Favourite Wild Mushroom Soup
This wild mushroom soup recipe makes a tasty starter or a delicious supper dish. Great with warm brioche rolls.
400g mixed fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned
200g button mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
1500ml vegetable stock
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
200ml double cream or crême fraiche
Squeeze the lemon over the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a deep saucepan, add the minced shallot and cook gently until translucent, approx 4–5 mins.
Add the mushrooms, cover the pan and cook gently for 10 minutes until the mushrooms have given up all their juices. Add the wine, the stock and the garlic clove. Season lightly with a little salt and pepper. Boil gently for 10 minutes.
Add the cream and cook for a further 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.
This soup can be made in advance and cooled before covering and storing in the refrigerator. To freeze, prepare the soup until the addition of the cream, allow to cool, remove the garlic and freeze. Finish with cream when required.
The Easiest Ever Apple Dessert
This easy, light and delicious recipe for apple mousse is a wonderful way to use sharp-flavoured British eating apples.
3 medium sized British apples, peeled, quartered and cored
15g white sugar
Dash of lemon juice
300ml scrumpy or dry cider
3 gelatine leaves softened in a little cold water, or 1 ½tsp powdered gelatine
300ml whipping cream
Optional: sprinkle with Kentish cobnuts, roughly chopped and tasted
Place the apples in a saucepan, add the water, sugar and lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes until the apples are tender and just starting to break up. Whizz in a food processor and then push through a fine sieve to create a smooth sauce.
Place the cider into a saucepan, boil and reduce to about 5tbsp. Remove from the heat then add the softened gelatine leaves or sprinkle the powder over, stir until dissolved and leave to cool.
Whip the cream until to form soft peaks, gently fold in the apple purée and cider. Divide between 4 x 9 cm ramekins, smooth the surface and leave to set in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Sprinkle with the nuts if using.