I can’t believe how dark and angry the weather has become in about two weeks. When did summer end? I am curled up on the sofa with a glass of red wine and I’m listening to the wind howling outside the window and barely a month ago, it was the height of summer and I’d just celebrated my birthday.. It does seem like an unsufferably long time since till Spring springs from the dank, dark earth again but in the meantime, we have my favourite couple of seasons.
I love wrapping up tight in lots of colourful layers and I love planning cosy suppers in the kitchen and I enjoy preparing for Christmas and so tomorrow, I shall start making my pickled pears, mincemeat and cranberry sauce. Before long, it will be time for baking the christmas cake!
But back to Autumn.
Autumn approaches and, following harvest, British seasonal food is at its peak. Summer foods are still available as well some winter produce. Welcome hearty game and rabbit, fill up on mussels and oysters, make jam from berries and gorge on chestnuts, walnuts and wild mushrooms.
Too many people are squeamish about rabbit these days. The mental image is that of Peter Rabbit bounding through carrot patches and they are almost as cuddly as kittens, and you wouldn’t eat one of them, but game is much under-rated and great in that it is often local and in plentiful supply.
Rabbit meat can be harder to find but a good butcher should be able to find it for you if you order in advance. Rabbit has multiple retro ‘cool’ points. Think of our grandmothers as land girls with their hair tied back in headscarves, coming home to a hearty rabbit stew. In this time of financial uncertainty, I think the foods that were staples during rationing should quite rightly be seeing a resurgence. Rabbit is the timeless cheap meat. Farmers will thank you for removing the pest of their crops and you should be thrilled about the excellence health benefits, they are low in fat and an excellence source of protein and iron.
Rabbit could be described as tasting like chicken, doesn’t everything?! But I think it tastes more gamey and more tender. Delicious with thick tasty sauces, it can take strong accompaniments like capers or tomatoes but also suits the more subtle flavours like morel mushrooms, brandy and cream.
In terms of cuts of meat and what to look out for: ‘fryer’ is the leanest and most tender; ‘roaster’, is a more mature rabbit – at its best when given a longer cooking time – lastly, there are the ‘giblets’, which are the organs of the animal. Take care, as the low fat content can make it dry if it’s not marinated beforehand, or basted during cooking.
Rabbit Stew: serves 6
2 rabbits’ worth of jointed meat, 250g pork belly or pancetta (cubed), 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 large onion (thickly sliced) ,3 large carrots and 4 celery sticks, (cut into short lengths), 2 bay leaves, A sprig of thyme, 500ml dry cider, 1 generous tsp honey, Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Gently fry the pork belly until it is lightly browned and the fat runs. Transfer the pieces of meat to a casserole but leave the frying pan on the heat.
2. Now brown the rabbit joints in the same pan, in batches, transferring them to the casserole as they are done. Finally, sweat the onion in the same pan but do not allow it to colour. Transfer to the casserole when soft and translucent. Add the carrots, celery, bay leaves and thyme to the casserole.
3. Push everything around so it is fairly tightly packed, then pour over the cider. Add a little water if necessary to cover the meat. Add the honey and season with salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, at a very low, tremulous simmer, for about 1 hour, until the rabbit is completely tender. You could cook it in a very low oven (120 degrees C) if you like – in which case, put a lid on the pot.
600ml double cream, 4-5 sprigs of fresh lemon thyme, leaves only (or 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme and lemon zest from 1/2 lemon), 75g blackcurrants, 100g golden caster sugar, plus an extra 2-3 tbsps for the topping, 6 whole egg yolks
1. Pour the cream into a saucepan, add the lemon thyme (or the thyme and lemon zest) and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and set aside, leaving the cream to infuse.
2. Add the blackcurrants, 50g sugar and 1 tablespoon of water to a small saucepan and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the juices reduce to a thick syrup, stirring occasionally so that the fruit does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cool a little, then divide the blackcurrant mixture between the ramekins.
3. Preheat the oven to 170C, fan 160C, gas 3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with 50g of the caster sugar until well blended but not foamy.
4. Re-heat the cream until hot again and slowly pour into the sugar and egg mixture, beating again until combined. Strain the custard into the ramekins, then place them in a roasting tin, each covered loosely with foil, making a hole in the centre for steam to escape. Make a bain-marie by pouring hot water from the kettle into the tin to halfway up the side of the ramekins.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the custards are just barely set in the centre (check after 25 minutes). Remove the ramekins from the oven and dispose of the water. Take off the foil and cool, then chill in the fridge, covered with clingfilm.
6. About 2-3 hours before serving, cover each custard with a thin layer of caster sugar and sprinkle with a little water, then caramelise, either with a cook’s blow torch or for 4-5 minutes under a very hot grill until all the sugar has melted and turned a lovely golden.
7. Chill again until ready to serve.
The walnut tree’s name derives from the Old English ‘wealhhnutu’, meaning ‘foreign nut’, because the trees were brought to Britain from Western Europe. Today, walnut trees are found in temperate regions across the planet and are widely cultivated; they thrive in drier countries because of their resistance to drought.
The hard wood of the walnut tree is valuable and has many uses; its wood is used for making furniture because of the beautiful pattern and gloss of the wood while the shells are used as a paint thickener and as an effective, industrial cleaning agent.
Once again, they are brilliantly healthy. The nut and its oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, famed for their disease-preventing skills! They are used to help lower cholesterol and walnut oil is thought to have a positive effect on those suffering from Alzheimers. They are also used in chinese medicine for the brain, kidneys and the skin.
Pork, walnut and Stilton sausage rolls: makes about 42
12 good-quality pork and herb sausages (skinned), 50g walnuts (toasted and chopped), 150g Stilton (crumbled), a handful of chopped fresh flatleaf parsley, 2 x 500g packs puff pastry, flour (for dusting), 1 large egg (lightly beaten), butter (for greasing)
1. Put the sausage meat into a large bowl. Add the nuts, cheese and parsley, season, and mix well with your hands.
2. Roll out each pastry pack on a lightly floured surface to a 37.5cm square. Cut each into 3 strips. Divide the sausage mix into 6 and shape each piece into a long sausage, the length of the pastry strips. Lay 1 long sausage in the centre of each pastry strip. Brush 1 edge of each pastry strip with egg, then fold over the other edge and seal with a fork. Cut each strip into 7 pieces, making 42 rolls – cut away any scraggy bits of sausage.
3. To cook, preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 6. Place the rolls on greased baking sheets, spaced apart. Brush each roll lightly with egg and cook for about 15 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. Eat hot, but even nicer cold.
Hurray for Autumn!!