Last week’s taste of summer, albeit late, was a delight. At the allotment the light on a morning and in late afternoon was beautiful. I’m not sure why the light in September is so lovely, maybe it’s the angle and the tone, there is none of the harshness of sunlight in high summer but crucially there is a warmth that isn’t there in spring. Shafts of light falling on the dahlias and rudbeckias and heavy dew glistening on the feathery foliage of the fennel meant the plot sparkled.
September is one of my favourite months, even though the prospect of winter just being around the corner doesn’t thrill me. There is something about the shortening days that makes me want to prepare the house for winter. To squirrel away fruit from the plot in the freezer, to dig out recipes for warming stews and to think about ordering our wood for the log burner. Food might have something to do with me loving this time of year so much. The month of harvest, even in a year where the weather has impacted so much on food production, September is the time to celebrate the best of our crops.
Unlike last autumn, where the hedgerows were laden with hips and haws, this year is looking a little bleak, certainly in my neck of the woods. We fancied making some damson gin for the first time but hadn’t been able to find any on our walks around the village. However, on Friday we spent the day in Bristol and were sat opposite a great greengrocers in Clifton, enjoying a spot of café culture when we spotted a large tray of dark, juicy damsons. Buying isn’t quite the same as foraging but needs must. So on Sunday we filled a jar with damsons that I had pricked all over, a fair amount of sugar went in and then I filled it up with gin. Sealed and stored in the larder I need to give it an occasional gentle shake and then after several months I can decant the liquor into bottles. For someone who doesn’t really drink it might seem like a strange thing to have done but there seemed something quite special about trying it at least. The colour of the liquid inside the jar, if nothing else, will remind me on a cold January evening of the warmth of a September day.
My autumn fruiting raspberries are producing a great crop. I have a mix of ‘Polka’ and ‘Autumn Bliss’ with the former having far superior berries and I’m picking enough to fill freezer bags full, for treats later in the year. Crumbles are a favourite dessert of mine and a versatile way of using autumnal fruit but even I can get sick of crumble. So I’ve started making the healthier option of compotes and purées. My favourite at the moment consists of cooked apple and plums with blackberries. I use eating apples and therefore don’t need to add any sugar to sweeten it. Apparently, in France there is no distinction between eating and cooking apples and it is perfectly acceptable to use what we would consider dessert apples such as Cox’s, in tarts and pies. I blitz my fruity concoction so it is very smooth and it’s yummy with porridge, yoghurt and ice cream. To make a compote, just keep the fruit quite chunky and add a little apple juice and cook over a medium heat until the fruit has softened. The pectin in the fruit should make for a slightly syrupy sauce and the colour will be amazing.
I’ve even found a great use for my nasturtium flowers. They have added a real splash of colour to salads but I tried them in a breadcrumb topping a few weeks ago and it was a real success. Simply chop a good handful of flowers and add to some breadcrumbs, some grated parmesan and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, stir and then add a little rapeseed/olive oil, put in an ovenproof dish and cook until golden, in a medium oven. This topping is perfect with some grilled white fish and the nasturtium flowers add a real peppery flavour.
With the inaugural first harvest of celeriac, fennel and the prized No. 1 squash it looks like a tasty autumn ahead.
Very ‘fruitful’. We’re enjoying the autumn raspberries too, and have a small handful of squash looking promising. One of the fennel bulbs has been enjoyed already, though our celeriac is looking a bit small, despite all this rain!
There is a lovely light in September isn’t there? Wish we could bottle it for dark winter nights…
I love the nasturtium flower topping.
I know it would be lovely to be able to capture sunshine for the winter, wouldn’t it? Still I suppose that is what makes us appreciate spring all the more, without winter spring wouldn’t be so special.
I like to make sloe gin but here as we can buy almost 100% alcohol I don’t actually use the gin. I have to adjust the quantities by adding water to make the concentration of alcohol much less strong. I like the idea of the savoury topping. Christina
Wow, that’s strong stuff. I used to work with an Italian man who brought some grappa into work one day, like you do, and he got everyone to try it. I think it took several days for my vocal chords to recover! I haven’t tried sloe gin either but even the sloes look rubbish this year, they’re tiny, weedy looking things. WW
You were most likely in the cafe that is opposite ‘Reg the veg’ in Clifton. That’s one of my favourite greengrocers albeit rather pricey. Just before I read your blog I had bought from my own local greengrocer (somewhat cheaper) 1 kilo of damsons to make into jam. There’s a limit to how much foraging one can do and I feel the need to fill the shelves with homemade jams and pickles. It will compensate for the end of summer.
It was the cafe and veg shop by the arcade. A lovely little spot for some tea and cake. I’m sure everywhere in Clifton is pricier than other places. It’s a lovely place but it does have that air about it. We had an enjoyable hour sipping tea and earwigging on the ‘ladies who lunch’ conversations 😉 I hadn’t really expected to see any damsons in the shops because I hadn’t seen any in the hedgerows so it was a bit of an impulse buy. I know the feeling about wanting to stash things away. I’m planning home-made cassis next year!
Oh my gosh, I love the Nasturtium blossoms in bread crumbs! How smart. 🙂
It’s very tasty, Stacey.
This made me remember–in a very “up-scale” store last year on vacation…a jar of pick peppercorns that had little flower bits of cornflowers and nasturtium added for even more color! It was one of those things that you pick up, put down over sticker shock and declare “I’m going to make that when I get home!”
Sounds amazing but I bet the price was too. Apparently you can pickle the nasturtium seeds in the green and they taste like capers.
I might have enough for one jar!
Tanya and Roy said:
A delight to read – as always. Much love, Tanya and Roy
Lovely recipes, must make a note of them. I agree, it’s a lovely time of year for freezing and storing what we have grown during the year. Not as much fruit this year though, we had loads of blossom but of course the bees weren’t about, should have flitted round with my paintbrush, will know for next year!
My crab apple has really suffered – very few fruits and they don’t look very good either. It’s quite a sad looking specimen. I love the idea of you and a paint brush pollinating by hand but hopefully you won’t need to do it next spring.
I love your idea for using nasturtium flowers, though I don’t know if I’m adventurous enough to try it myself. I’ve never made damson gin so you’ll have to let us know how it works out and tastes.
Hi Jo, Oh you should definitely try the nasturtium flowers in the breadcrumbs. They aren’t overpowering or anything and if you think others won’t like it don’t tell them they are in it until they say they really like it 😉 When you toast it in the oven it goes all nice and crunchy. As for the gin, well the colour certainly looks good.
it all looks and sounds delicious.
I like September, which so far has been really good. I’m picking plenty of blackberries every day along with a few raspberries. xx