Autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, has certainly started as it means to go on! Spider’s webs are glistening as fairy decorations draped on the bushes, barely hanging on with every raindrop that shakes the leaves. Every time the grass gets a little bit drier and perks up, it gets another dousing and just decides to lie down flat again and hope it will all soon go away.
Where are the flaming September sunsets and golden hues, which are supposed to make the wheat fields look like a Constable painting? What about the leaves that are meant to be burnishing their way to copper, bronze and orange on the trees, before fluttering away in a brisk autumn breeze? Enough of that anyway.
Let’s talk about the ‘mellow fruitfulness’ bit of the line in John Keats’ famous poem. At least there is some of that to celebrate!
Yes, this is the time of year when the harvest is in full swing. Apples are swelling on the trees, ready for picking later this month. Pumpkins are fattening in the fields, and they won’t be ready till October when they’ve reached maximum plumpness in time for Halloween. So what else can we be expecting to find in our food shops and farmer’s markets?
There are still a lot of polytunnel greens around. Spinach and mixed salad leaves are still popping up. You’ll also find some leeks and young cabbages now. Great for the first warming dishes of autumn. Use leeks in a pork casserole. And of course, where is a joint of Irish bacon without the cabbage to go with it?
Lots of homegrown tomatoes around. Farmer’s markets and farm shops may have some different varieties. Tomatoes have taken a while to ripen this year, so if you are growing your own, you may have a glut now. Use for tomato chutney, or oven-dry slowly with a little seasoning, then pack into sterilised jars and top up with Irish Rapeseed Oil. These will bring a bit of sun to your cooking in the depths of winter.
British Queen and Homeguard potatoes are now giving way for new season Kerr Pinks. Nothing beats these for the best mash in Ireland! Steam them, then mash them with butter and milk for a traditional serving. If you want to smarten things up, add chopped parsley or chopped spring onion tops, enrich with cream, or stir in some grated mature Irish cheddar cheese.
Use for accompanying meat dishes, or to top a Shepherd’s Pie, Cottage Pie or Fish Pie. Yummy.
There are still some beetroots around. These are quite large now and good for pickling, ready for, dare we say it, Christmas. There we go, it’s out. The festive season is coming soon, so you may as well be prepared with some nice homemade pickles in the cupboard! Red cabbage is also being picked now and makes superb pickles for cold meat platters.
Bunches of carrots are also available, freshly dug from the ground. The best way to buy them is with the earth still on, which keeps them moist. They dry out once you clean them.
You may be lucky enough to find some freshly harvested Irish grown corn on the cobs. We have tried our first ones of the month and they are divine.
Trim off the ends, the leaves and the hairy threads, then cook in boiling water till tender. Takes about 25 minutes to cook them. Serve as they come, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper and with lots of butter melted on top.
Pick them up with your hands and nibble the juicy kernels straight off the cob. Let the juice dribble down your chin and taste the natural sweetness as those crunchy little kernels pop in your mouth. A true September feast. The season is short, so grab some Irish sweetcorn while you can!
As we mentioned, pumpkins need a bit more time to grow before they are picked. But you may find some of the smaller varieties of homegrown Irish squash arriving on the market this month. Look out for Acorn Squash or Crown Prince, both of which have firm flesh with a buttery nutty flavour. Ideal for roasting in wedges or whole if very small.
Simply cut off the top and save it as a lid, then scrape out the seeds. We love to fill the cavity with some homemade oven-dried tomatoes and Cooleeney Camembert, then drizzle with olive oil, season, pop the lid back on and bake in the oven. An absolutely sublime and stylish autumn supper.
The last hurrah of the summer strawberries is still persevering. There also tayberries and loganberries in some farm shops. But the biggest find in homegrown fruit right now has to be wild blackberries, ripening on every ditch in Ireland.
They are plump and ready for the taking, and if the weather gets any wetter they will soon start to mould. So get out and pick yourself a bowlful or two before that happens, but leave some for the birds. They like blackberries too!