British food in season for the month of October, find out what British ingredients are tasting their best right now.
As much as I love the buzz and warmth that summer sun brings, I do especially love the low golden light that occurs in the autumn as the sun starts to sit lower in sky. It seems to last all day long, when it is not overcast that is. Today was a prime example as I cycled through Richmond park there were picturesque scenes of orange/ browning woodlands with sunlight streaming through in soft lines while the stags with their magnificent crowns called loudly. Autumn is certainly not all doom and gloom as the land also provides a delicious array of seasonal treats.
British apples are at their best along side chestnuts, damsons and bullaces. Squashes and pumpkin have arrived along with the first of the game birds; grouse and from the sea; native oysters.
In Britain we have a climate well suited to growing apples, and if we had kept hold of our orchards we would be able to keep ourselves in a constant supply with storage through until around the end of June! We were once growing over 2300 different varieties, now we import most of our apples from France! The best thing you can do for your taste buds when it comes to apples is to get down your local farmers market and grab as many different varieties as you can. I have already made some delicious apple crumble from my mother in-laws garden using large green cooking apples too sour for eating raw. If you live in East London I know that there are some community orchards being grown with some trees in public parkland. Apples always quench my thirst, they make a better wake up call than any cup of coffee and are a great addition to a packed lunch or snack on the go treat. If you happen upon some crab apples as I often did as a child, it’s probably best not to eat them raw as they are rather tart to say the least, but they do make awesome jelly which happens to pair very well with fatty cuts of meat such as game or a shoulder of Lamb, also in season right now. Nature is very clever you know.
Not to be confused with the horse chestnut which are known for making great conkers but have no place in the kitchen! The nut looks similar but you can tell them apart by the leaves of tree, what you are looking for are long pointy spear shaped leaves. Chestnuts are a delightful treat for those up for a bit of foraging on their woodland walks. I attended a Made In Hackney cookery class recently where the group made a delicious Tuscan cake using chestnut flour. They are of course lovely roasted in fire embers or in the oven, you must prick them first otherwise an explosion will ensue. They are lovely paired with a glass of warm milk or indeed spruce up traditional brussel sprouts at the Christmas dinner table.
Damsons and Bullaces
While these small plum like fruits are not as tasty to eat raw like regular plums, they do make excellent jellies, jams, ice cream, wine and gin. Damsons are not widely grown commercially anymore, although they were once upon a time in the North of England and Midlands. Cumbria has however started a resurgence for Damsons with the Westmoreland Damson Association setting out to restore the areas orchards. Bullaces on the other hand are a strictly wilderness treat.
Some would say Grouse is the finest game bird there is and it must be for it comes with a hefty price tag. I must professe I have never tasted Grouse, perhaps because I am not born of an aristocratic family. Grouse is rather an expensive bird to say the least, but if I happen to run into a bit of spare cash this autumn I’ll be sure to give it a go. It will drop in price as the season wears on so perhaps I’ll bide my time a little. If you manage to get your hands on a whole bird, roast it quickly at a high heat after you have larded it with bacon fat and stuffed it with butter and fresh raspberries. Oh what a decadent treat! Serve with gorgeous thick cut chips and a parsnip or carrot purée.
Once Oysters were available in abundance, with Thames estuary towns Whitstable and Colchester famous for them. Up until the late nineteenth century, eight gallons of oysters could be bought for fourpence! Now they are rather more scarce and as a result farmed alongside Pacific oysters, though it is said that native oysters are superior. I’ve never really got into oysters myself, though I have tried a number of times. Many people enjoy them best raw with a little lemon juice and or tabasco. They can be cooked briefly in a little buttery sauce as well though I have never found them served in that way, you could have a go at home.
Pumpkin and Squashes
While pumpkins are an american import, they and other squashes grow well here in Britain. They do take up quite a bit of space so you will need to have an allotment or large garden to be able to accommodate the growing of them. While Pumpkin is well known for it’s scarey halloween lanterns, the flesh does make quite a nice soup, or a sweet pie as is popular in America. I do much prefer the tastier smaller squashes which I have had a great time over the last week or so trying many different varieties from my local farmers market. I like them best roasted in the oven. I just chip them up into chunks leaving the skin on and just season them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil. They only take about 15-20 mins at about 180 degrees, turning once halfway. I also roast the seeds which make a delicious snack. When roasted I find the texture of the flesh similar to that of sweet potatoes, but with a far more buttery creamy flavour. So delicious!
So get into the swing of autumn, pick some great British food in season in October.