I sometimes forget food is actually grown. It just seems to appear on supermarket shelves – neatly wrapped up in excessive plastic packaging, as if it never came from a field or a tree at all. But during this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, nature puts on a dazzling display, as if to remind us of the fact: the heat of the summer sun subsiding but leaving an afterglow in the form of ripe fruit. Even in cities, there’s plenty to pick. So, this year I’m grabbing life by the trug and making the most of offerings such as...
Blackberries (August to October)
Crumble and custard is surely the taste of autumn – thanks to these jewels, which line the hedgerows in late summer – stew with cooking apples and a little sugar as a simple and delicious filling. Freeze the rest to be enjoyed throughout the winter months.
Sweet chestnuts (October to November)
No nut is more synonymous with the season than the sweet chestnut – hundreds of which wait to be plucked from the floor at this time of year. To eat, make a small cut in each nut (this is vital or they will explode) before boiling or roasting, then peel off the shell. These are delicious alone but can also be whipped into chestnut stuffing, sliced and fried with sprouts or even (most decadently) turned into a puree and used to give chocolate cake a wonderful festive twist.
Hedgehog mushrooms (September to November)
Okay, disclaimer: I have only ever foraged for hedgehog mushrooms once – but according to my trusty mushroom book, they’re easily identifiable to beginners. Difficult to confuse with anything else, these creamy white fungi with spines covering the underside, flourish in damp woodland at this time of year. Chop off any dirty bits and clean thoroughly with a toothbrush (preferably unused) before frying with lots of butter, garlic and salt and serving on fresh brown toast. YUM.
Winter chanterelles (August to December)
Winter chanterelles, by comparison, are more difficult to identify (for me – a novice anyway). In season from August to December, always be on the lookout for these gems hiding beneath leaf matter on the woodland floor. There are many imposters, so if in doubt do not eat. The real deal will have slim yellow stems, irregular light brown caps and gills on the underside which go down the stem.
Sloes (September to November)
Blackthorn bushes are laden with these enticingly plump berries – but be warned, they look far better than they taste. Thankfully, they have another good use – and that is, of course, sloe gin. All you need is a bowl of sloes, some sugar and a bottle of Bombay. Pierce a hole in each berry (time-consuming but worth it) then add to your gin, along with your sugar. This time next year you'll be sipping a delicious syrupy drink to warm your cockles on cold days.