Every fruit, vegetable or meat has its season when it is at its tastiest and most abundant. We always love to cook as many dishes as possible using seasonal fruits and vegetables. Autumn brings the colder and damper weather, and with it, a desire for heartier and more warming dishes, and very often seasonal produce reflect this.
An array of colourful fresh autumn produce
Probably the most famous of the autumn / winter vegetables is the pumpkin. It is seen as a typical October or November vegetable for its vibrant autumnal colour, as well as its relation to Halloween! It can be kept in a cool, dry place for weeks and is perfectly suitable for soups, stews, as a sweet dessert, or even tasty muffins! In the same family are the slightly more bland marrow (easily dressed up with a tasty meat stuffing) and the comforting butternut squash with its delicious nutty flavour – both are perfect choices to add to the menu this time of year.
Green vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and spinach are very high in iron and are popular at this time of year too. They are very versatile and can be simply served with a knob of butter and good seasoning, sautéed with bacon, or stir-fried in an Asian-inspired menu, but one thing`s for sure, no Christmas lunch menu would be complete without a generous serving of Brussels sprouts.
The cool, damp and (relatively) dark autumn days are perfect conditions for growing all kinds of mushrooms. Mushrooms a great accompaniment for many dishes, sometimes used as a topping, or to bulk out a dish. Delicious when eaten with fish, ham and chicken, especially when served with cheese, they add an earthy taste to game and are also ideal as the principal ingredient in a vegetarian dish – and often used as a more than adequate meat substitute.
Root vegetables also come into their own at this time of year. Beetroot, carrots, potatoes, swede and turnips all give that sweet, homely and comforting flavour. Popularly they are roasted – especially good with herbs such as rosemary, but it is also not uncommon to see the vegetables as a prominent part of a soup, mashed or pureed. There are other less well-known autumn root vegetables, such as the Jerusalem artichoke, celeriac and the kohlrabi too. The Jerusalem artichoke is not in fact an artichoke, and does not come from Jerusalem – it is part of the sunflower family and originates in the USA! It adds a good flavour to stews and casseroles and is great with game. Part of the celery family, only the root of the celeriac is eaten! It’s wonderful grated into a slaw, made into a creamy soup or served on its own with melted butter. Coming from the wild cabbage plant, the kohlrabi is used extensively in Asian cooking and can be eaten either cooked or raw. It is lovely grated into a salad and very good with fish.
Festive, fruits and nuts
The autumn also brings a wealth of fruit. The good old British apple comes to the forefront at this time. We have a wealth of varieties and recipes for apples, from traditional apple pie, to pork with apple sauce, as well as apple and walnut salads. Many of us have apple trees in our gardens and always endure the frustrating problem of one week having no fruit at all and the following week we are absolutely inundated with a huge bounty of sweet and delicious fruits. Apple is very good with cheese, whether served on a cheese board, baked in a savoury crumble with cheese and red onion, or even mixed with a variety of herbs, nuts and breadcrumbs to produce a stuffing.
Chestnuts, pear and walnuts are also popular seasonal produce and are delicious together and yet each has a wonderful individual flavour.
Using seasonal produce is not only economically beneficial, it is also central in creating the flavours, aromas and comforting ambience we expect at this time of year.