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.