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Harvesting The Fruits of Autumn

There is a hint of autumn in the air. The mornings a little fresher, the nights are drawing in and the fruits of September’s harvest are ready. This time of year it is all about apples, pears, plums, damsons and blackberries.

Apples

Autumn and smell of apples cooking go together perfectly. Whilst the ubiquitous Bramley is usually the only cooking apple to be found on supermarket shelves, you can discover traditional apple varieties at farmers’ markets, or perhaps ask if your neighbours have any unusual varieties growing in their back gardens.

Make sure the apples chosen for cooking reflect the specific requirement of each recipe -

  • A good baked apple needs to hold its shape and not collapse into a soft mush. The once mandatory garden variety, Golden Noble, becomes a white foam like a soufflé as it rises in the oven to give the finest baked apple.
  • Very tart and strong-flavoured apples like Dumelow’s Seedling (Queen Victoria’s favourite apple) or the Yorkshire Goosesauce make perfect apple sauce.
  • Soft apples that collapse into a froth, such as Keswick Codlin, make apple snow.
  • The best pie apples such as Bramley retain structure to hold up the pie crust and give some contrasting texture in the fruit.
  • The same consideration of flavour and texture applies when choosing apples to make a tarte tatin. You can use a Cox or a Braeburn, but they don’t have the depth of flavour of an Ashmead Kernal, which is an old-fashioned variety.

Pears

Pears are picked unripe and are sold unripe too, as when ripen they are very delicate and easily bruised, so it’s best to do this at home. But it’s always a challenge to judge when they are perfectly ripe – then you must eat them quickly or store them in the fridge as they go over-ripe and mushy very quickly.

There are over 400 varieties of pears, plus perry pears – which are inedible and astringent but perfect for making perry, a pear cider. Unless you grow your own pears or have access to an old orchard, you will only be able to buy half a dozen varieties. Conference is the most common, plus Anjou, red or green, Williams and Comice, the most sweetly scented.

Pears are very versatile and can be used in the same recipes as apples. For desserts, they are traditionally poached in wine, or poached and served with chocolate sauce. However, I like to use pears in savoury dishes. They work beautifully in a crisp salad with bitter chicory leaves and a maple syrup dressing or in a coleslaw with beetroot and celeriac.

Plums and Damsons

There are three types of plums. The wild (or at least feral) plums like sloes, damsons and gages are favoured by foragers and now is the time to hunt for these treasures. Damsons, which are small, dark and dusky, are far sharper and less juicy than plums, but they make the queen of jams, full flavoured and deep red in colour. Blaisdons, which are semi-wild, are perfect for eating straight from the tree, or they make a rewarding crumble. The table or dessert varieties, such as Victorias, are larger and have a combination of richer flavour and sweeter flesh.

The versatility of plums in cooking is one good reason for their popularity across continents and centuries. I prefer roasting plums to stewing them as they keep their shape. Damsons make the best plum jam, and always use a dark red plum for a tangy plum sauce.

Blackberries

Ripening from August through to September, blackberries are the most commonly foraged fruit and picking these berries is one of my favourite ways of making a walk more entertaining. For the keen gardener, it is worth planting a thornless blackberry or one of the crosses: a loganberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, and a tayberry a cross between a loganberry and a raspberry. You don’t need to rely on foraged blackberries, of course, as there are cultivated varieties in the shops and they have a bigger berry than the wild ones.

Blackberries go well with apples, pears and plums, but they do colour the paler fruits purple. They make a great addition to an apple crumble.

Here are some of our favourite Autumn Fruit recipes

Apple Tarte Tatin

Beetroot, Potato and Apple Latkes

Autumn Fritters with Beetroot Slaw and a Pear and Apple Chutney

Apple and Cinnamon Stollen

Autumn Fruit Crumble

Plum Jam

Apple Pecan Slaw


Mouthwatering photos by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.

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