November is when it really starts to feel like winter. The days are shorter. The nights cold and crisp. If you observe the countryside around you, you’ll see the birds are  doing their best to make the most of what food is available, from rosehips and other berries to the last dregs of wild blackberries that are still clinging on the branches. It might be time to help them a little by hanging some fat balls or  peanut and seed feeders in the garden. Not only will you be keeping them going in the tough months ahead, but you’ll have a fine display of the birds that visit your garden each day!

As for us humans, it’s time to start making some warming, comforting winter foods.  With Halloween at the end of October,  came brightly coloured pumpkins and squash. These are wonderful for smooth velvety soups, for roasting as a side dish, or for adding to casseroles or curries with or without meat. Find also the green veg of the brassica family, including broccoli and winter cabbages. Broccoli can be used as a side dish, or added in tiny florets to stir fries with meat or fish. Also fab for vegetable based pasta bakes with creamy cheese sauce and maybe some ham stirred through. Purple sprouting broccoli will also be on stream soon – this is superb stir fried or steamed to eat on it’s own, maybe adorned with melted butter and a mature Irish cheddar or other hard cheese, grated,  or olive oil, garlic and chilli.  Cabbage is for the bacon, isn’t it?! Well yes, but it’s also a veggie in it’s own right. You can shred it finely and deep fry it, then season with soy, when it makes a ‘seaweed’ like accompaniment to oriental dishes. Or stuff the centre of a whole steamed cabbage or individual cabbage leaves with a savoury mince and bake  in the oven. Bake in a cheese sauce topped with breadcrumbs for a crisp finish. And at the very least – add leftover cooked cabbage (the cabbage you ate with the bacon!) to leftover mashed potatoes in the frying pan and make a quick bubble and squeak, turning in the pan to brown well.  Top with grated cheese, grill to bubbling – serve as a dish on it’s own or with midweek bangers.  Very nice! Root veggies are coming into their own – carrots parsnips and turnips – for soups, meat stews and casseroles and for roasting as a compliment to a piece of prime roast beef for Sunday lunch. Winter potatoes include Kerr Pinks which are sublime for mashing, and Roosters which chip well and can be used for steaming or for a gratin potato dish. Celery is also arriving – they say the best celery comes after a light frost, when the cold helps to crisp the stems. Good for winter slaws and classic salads like Waldorf – mixed with Irish apples (see below) and sultanas in a light mayo.

Meats of winter include well aged beef as mentioned above,   and lamb which was born in the spring and has had chance to fatten and develop flavour through the summer. Some game around – including venison and rabbit, both of which make superb hearty winter stews and slow cooked casseroles.

Irish seasonal fruit is limited to homegrown apples available from now through to  Christmas depending on how long this year’s stocks last – they make great crumbles, pies and tarts or can be baked whole stuffed with dried fruits. 

See our recipes for warming dishes below: