There’s nothing I love more than a proper Summer, just like the one we’ve just been treated to; by that I mean more than one glorious week in May and then another in September to bookmark the season that’s otherwise a dreary tease of warmth drowned out by easy rain, or a ‘heatwave’ stolen from warmer climes, never really ours to lay claim to. There does, however, come a point when the days start to shorten again and there’s a chill to the morning that ignites an excitement I struggle to contain, where I start to wish away that last smattering of warmer days, like an impatient child I start to long for the toasty glow of coming in from a cold walk, a quickening of the heart is brought on by the shift of seasons and a glimpse of dark and cosy evenings. I’m a snow baby, and Autumn brings with it a soft focus filter and languid blanket to soften the past season’s perky brightness, an inkling of parties, the suggestion of, hold your breath unless it passes, glint of revelry, fireworks and sparklers, flames, chinking, cheering, glitz and glamour.
But not quite yet. For now is the interim. Faintly muffled around the edges. Leaves are falling, shushing underfoot, pretty amber decay before breaking down into dank vegetal sludge, contrasting with the dark prickles of their hardier neighbours. Running, pounding through this process, tossing aside those leaves in my wake, physical manifestation of this yearly cycle, sweat cooling quickly to chill, thorny branches stripped of their covering reach out to tear soft, too human flesh, it’s a stark reminder and enough to make me feel ALIVE. Though not as tarted up as winter’s frosty, bejewelled starts, Autumn’s mornings herald a soft focus allure; moisture clinging to the undergrowth, mist rising above as though the ghosts of millions of tiny frogs and crickets dancing eerily, only to be immediately banished by the seasons polarising sunlight.
There’s something romantic about wrapping yourself up in layers, packing away flip flops and buying new pairs of stompy boots, twisting increasing layers of knitted wool around your body as the months progress, protecting all that flesh that was so recently exposed. Beneath the surface. Comforting. As is the food we suddenly begin to crave. Colours mimic the nature around us. Bright and lively salads, fresh fruit, zesty BBQ’d meats are turned down a notch; richer, heavier, darker. Root vegetables, a still life of orange squash, ruby beetroots, carrots and parsnips have their chance to shine, adding layers to our now wrapped away, hidden bodies. We’re forgetful creatures, us humans, and I still get that WOW moment again and again when I joyfully rediscover each new seasons harvest, as if, not necessarily for the first time then certainly, a long lost, forgotten friend. I get intense cravings for sulphurous kale and broccoli, slow cooked stews, funky game birds, red wine, cheese with everything, roasts. Saucy plums and figs are suddenly plumptiously ripe and appealing, seductive shades of purple that are joined by our tiny, many varietied rosy apples and inky blackberries, perfect for crumbles, fools and jams.
Having an allotment is magical at this time, spitting out of the ground a veritable shopping list of produce, I’m a slovenly worker but adore peering into bulging bags to see what I have to play with. A never ending seemingly bottomless supply of spuds forms the basis of many meals around now, you’re never short on carbs in this house, and they’re so far superior to those supermarket deviants, our knobbly, many appendaged beauties cook in dangerously few minutes and are packed with a flavour that’s hard to beat, creamy in texture and with that smug, self satisfied whiff of the home grown. We have an equally abundant supply of onions and garlic, beetroot and runner beans also feature heavily. I’ve sadly been banned from the wonderfully nutty jurusalem artichoke after a particularly fruitful season where the boy thought I was trying to poison him such were the side effects to his gut, they don’t call them fart-i-chokes for nothing.
With this bounty as the basis of many midweek meal, I tend to perform a nightly kitchen forage, sweeping whatever excesses are left from the weekend into a quick one pan meal supplemented with herbs and spices from the cupboard, maybe a couple of sausages popped from their skins, a bit of cheese. The possibilities are, maybe not entirely endless, but very satisfying indeed. Crushed potatoes, fried with spices and onion or shallots, are a hearty start, add kale and beetroot and a smidge of meat for a fulfilling, and very cheap, meal.
Brunch is possibly my favourite meal as it always seems to suggest a treat or indulgence, and is generally what I’d class as comfort food. I can’t resist a vegetable fritter, I went through a slightly mad phase not so long ago, but this version is particularly good; grated pumpkin with some left over crumbled stilton, shredded kale, a little egg and flour, fennel seeds and topped with a fried or poached egg, bacon wouldn’t have gone a miss either to be honest. Another winner is par boiled pumpkin chunks, fried with kale, cauliflower, garlic, paprika and cumin seeds, and as is often necessary for brunch, topped again with a dribbly, drippy egg.
Of course I can’t talk about any set of flavours without mentioning doughnuts, always loitering at the back of my mind. So I’ve been playing around with pumpkin as an addition to the dough, I know it sounds a little Halloween/American, but I wanted to see how it changed the texture. It makes for a far wetter dough for a start, and I added more handfuls of flour to compensate, to be fair, probably not helped much by the addition of some ginger syrup from the jar of the stem ginger I chopped up and also included. The resulting doughnuts were faintly orange and had a depth of flavour that was not overpowering but added a certain autumnal feel. I finished these with a fondant made with limoncello and a smatter of candied pumpkin and fennel seeds, I’ve also topped them with fondant made with hazelnut liqueur, equally good but more mellow and earthy.
Feeling naughty and fancying a bit of sweet/savoury action I couldn’t resist frying some of the dough I’d safely stashed in the freezer, slicing it in half and filling with some crispy prosciutto.
Brunch doughnut bacon sandwich WIN.