AUTUMN FRUIT IN SEASON SEPT TO NOV These fruits come into season gradually over the summer months. The softer fruits, like raspberries, plums and blackberries, will gradually disappear again as the autumn wears on, so buy them when you see them to enjoy in the first warm days of autumn.
- Apples Use apples in all sorts of easy healthy apple recipes, in salads, inbaked apple recipes, use them to fill crumbles, pies or turnovers, puree them and use in cakes or stir through custard for a simple fool. Toss finely sliced apple rings into pancakes, or slice and sugar them, top with buttery crumbs and bake.
Blackberries They’ll keep for 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Pick them over, rinse, and freeze spread on trays until firm, then packed into bags in useful quantities. Blackberries are high in vitamins and minerals. Cultivated blackberries are usually much larger and sweeter, good for eating raw. In cooking, they’re best paired with other fruit, usually apples, to make crumbles or pies, or puree the cooked fruits together as a base for mousses or fools. Juice them with apples for an autumn drink, or sprinkle some on plain yogurt or muesli for breakfast.
Blueberries In season through September. Sweet enough to eat raw without sugar. Also good with pancakes, in cakes, or lightly stewed and spooned over ice cream. Or try them baked in a healthy blueberry muffin.
Fresh figs The skin of fresh figs can vary from purple to pink or light brown, but the flesh inside is always succulent crimson. Unlike many fruit, figs contain protein and are also rich in calcium and iron. Look for firm, smooth skins and avoid figs which feel sticky. They bruise easily so handle with care. Figs are a real delicacy and delicious eaten raw. They make a pretty addition to salads, or slice them and use to decorate other desserts.
Grapes Although they are now available all year round, autumn is the best season for grapes. Wash before eating and keep refrigerated. Choose firm grapes, and check they aren’t turning brown near the stem.
Pears Conference are available most of the year as they store so much better than other varieties They ripen quickly once brought into a warm house, so buy small quantities. Handle carefully as they bruise easily. Buy firm pears and ripen at home. They keep for about three days. Eat raw, add to fruit salads, poach in fruit juice or wine, juice them with other fruits.
Plums Lots of different varieties, available well into the autumn. Buy when firm, and store refrigerated for up to four days. To stone plums, run a small sharp knife around the natural groove, gently twist the halves apart and prise out the stone. Most are sweet enough to eat raw, or you can bake them, or make them into crumbles, pies or tarts. Try slices added to green or fruit salads, or bake them alongside meat.
Raspberries Late fruiting varieties are at their best in the early autumn. They’re often larger and darker than the summer varieties. Eat raw, mix with other fruit in red fruit salads or compotes, use to fill flans or scones, puree to make sorbet, ice cream or a tangy sweet sauce.
AUTUMN VEGETABLES IN SEASON SEPT TO NOV
Many of the roots are available all year round, but are at their best in autumn.
Aubergine (Eggplant) Still good through September. There’s no need to salt and drain aubergine. Rather than frying aubergines, which soak up huge amounts of oil, slice them, brush with oil and bake in oven until tender, then use in casseroles and bakes. Ideal with tomatoes and spices. Classic component of Ratatouille.
Beetroot This is one time when you can save yourself a lot of messing about and buying beetroot that have already been cooked. Avoid those soused in strong vinegar, which completely masks their delicate flavor. If you do buy them raw, rinse off any earth gently and simmer in plenty of water for 1-2 hours. Or bake them, covered with foil, at 180C/gas 4 for about an hour. Don’t poke beetroot to see if they’re done, as the juice will start to bleed out. If the skin wrinkles away from the root, they’re ready. Use them in soup, in salads, where they blend well with potatoes or, surprisingly, oranges, or slice, dress with a little vinaigrette and serve warm with grilled chicken.
Broccoli Cut into florets and steam or stir-fry briefly to preserve nutrients. Makes excellent soup. Use in pasta sauces or gratin dishes, or add lightly cooked florets to salads.
Brussels sprouts To prepare, cut away the outside leaves and rinse. There’s no need to cut a cross in the bottom. Tiny ones are good steamed, then tossed in garlic butter, and there are various other brussel sprout recipes. They’re good added into healthy soup recipes that use other vegetables – their flavour can be quite dominating. Brussels sprouts aren’t pleasant to eat raw.
Cabbage Shred them into salads and coleslaw. Add a handful to soup. Cook cabbage lightly, by steaming or simmering in the minimum of water until just tender. It responds well to slow cooking, too. Try tossing shredded cabbage softening an onion in walnut oil, add a crushed garlic clove and a handful of chopped walnuts, then add shredded cabbage, put the lid on and let it cook slowly until the cabbage is meltingly tender.
Carrots In autumn and winter, carrots have a more robust flavor than in spring. Delicious in soup with orange,or soup with lentilsjuiced, or shredded into salads and sandwiches, they’re also good steamed, stir-fried or roast. A dash of orange juice brings out the flavor. Or add them to long-cooking meat stews for a touch of sweetness. They also make very good, moist cakes.
Cauliflower Can be used raw in salads, steamed or stir-fried. Cook lightly. Mild flavor marries well with spices or vinaigrette dressing.
Celeriac These big knobbly brown roots don’t look very promising, but they have a wonderful celery-like flavor which is great in soups. Cut them into chunks and boil until tender, then puree them alone, or with potato for a comforting side dish. which start to come in during October. Celeriac discolors when cut, so use it immediately, or put the cut pieces into a bowl of water acidulated with vinegar of lemon juice.
Celery Wash celery well, cut off the root end, and ‘unzip’ the long strings. Celery adds its distinctive flavor to stocks and celery soup recipes, is good as a crudite (children like it), and is nice chopped into salads. For cooking, I prefer to braise it gently in the oven in a little stock.
Chicory White edged with greenish yellow, these torpedo-shaped vegetables have a pleasingly bitter flavor which is a good antidote to some of the sweeter vegetables. Shred into salads, steam, or braise with a little olive oil until tender. Good with fish.
Courgettes (Zucchini) They get bigger and bigger at the end of summer, until they turn into marrows. Small ones have best flavor, and are less watery. Slice, grate or cut into ribbons to cook, or scoop out seeds, stuff and bake. They can be steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, roast in chunks. Use to make Ratatouille.
Cucumbers Peel and cut into fingers for snacks, slice or chop into salads, add to Bulgar or cous cous salads, mix with yoghurt for a refreshing tzatziki dip.
Fennel Aniseed flavor is most pronounced when raw. Chop finely into salads, cook on barbecue, or bring out the sweet flavour by braising gently in a little olive oil until lightly browned.
French beans Still around until the end of September. Top and tail, then steam lightly. Eat hot, or leave to cool and use in salads.
Jerusalem artichoke Arrives by November, as a pile of rather muddy, knobbly tubers. They need lots of washing and are a bit of a devil to peel, but worth the effort for their lovely flavor. They discolour quickly, so drop them into acidulated water as you go. Make fantastic Jerusalem artichoke soup, or roast them in the oven and serve with chicken. One drawback – they create, ahem, rather a lot of gut disturbance… Don’t cook them for your lover.
Leeks Don’t buy the really giant-sized leeks that appear as the season wears on. The leaves can be quite fibrous and stringy. To clean leeks, remove root and tough green leaves, then slash vertically from the top and wash under running water, separating the layers to remove all traces of dirt. Shred or slice to cook, by steaming or stir-frying. Great in soups or in gratin-style dishes.
Mangetout (snow peas) finish in September, what a shame.
Mushrooms This is the time of year to look out for wild mushrooms.
Onions Yes, I know you can get them all year round, but autumn and winter is the traditional onion season, and who wants onion soup in midsummer. Absolute staple of any kitchen, they add flavor to virtually every sauce, soup or stew you’ll ever make. For a totally simple supper, have them roast, or even boiled, just by themselves, with just a little grated cheese sprinkled over, and enjoy the sweet intensity.
Parsnips Pick out small to medium parsnips. If you are stuck with larger ones, cut out the woody center before cooking. They are lovely in soups, pureed with swede or potato, cut into chunks and roast with other veg, added to beef stews.
Peppers Red, yellow, orange, green, even purple. Flavour is enhanced with chargrilling, either under the grill, or by baking in hot oven for 20 mins until blistered. Put in a plastic bag so that the steam loosens skins. Peel and slice. Peppers are delicious raw in salads, or can be stuffed and baked.
Pumpkin Looks glorious, in all it’s golden tubbiness, but lacks the flavour of butternut squash. That said, pumpkin works extremely well in soups, and is also great made into spicy cakes.
Radishes Carry on until October. Longer, white-tipped varieties are less fiery than the round red ones. Good in salads and chopped into stir-fries.
- Romanesco cauliflower is best in October and November. If you find small heads of Romanesco, simply boil them for a few minutes until tender, and serve whole. For salads, cut into florets, blanch, then drop into iced water to fix the bright green colour, and serve mixed with shredded red onion and olives, and dressed with oil and lemon juice. You can also make it into a good sauce for pasta, by cooking until soft, and mashing with garlic and chilli, or adding to tomato sauce, then stirring through hot pasta.
Runner beans Available through September. Avoid big, bulgy beans which are very tough. Top and tail and remove strings, then slice or cut into chunks and steam lightly.
Squash Butternut’s our favorite, because of its sweet, full flavour. Roast chunks in the oven, brushed with oil, until tinged brown. Makes a lovely golden soup, and is also good in risotto.
Swede I was put off this for years by memories of watery mush served up at school. A pity, because swede is actually a rather pleasant vegetable. Cut it into chunks, boil until tender, then puree and season well. It’s maybe better mixed with mashed potato, to avoid any hint of wateriness.
Sweetcorn The fresh cobs are sheathed in pale green leaves, with fronds of silk showing at the end. Inside, the kernels should be tightly packed and firm. Remove leaves and silk, and boil them for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, brush with oil and roast in a medium oven for about 25 minutes until tinged brown. Either way, eat them straight from the cob, but mind your lips – let them cool a little. Tradition says you should slather them with melted butter, but I actually find the flavor is better on its own, so it’s no hardship to serve them unadorned.
Turnip Seek out the smallest, cut them into chunks and steam, braise gently in a little olive oil, or roast in the oven. Larger ones need to be peeled quite thickly, to remove all the woody rind. Also good in soups, and added to winter stews.
Watercress Peppery flavor is good in a mixture of other leaves. Good in egg sandwiches and omelettes, or in soup.