A seasonally conscientious cook should, logically speaking, be depressed by the end of summer as fresh fruit and vegetables disappear, heavy, filling winter dishes loom on the horizon and the barbecue is packed away for another year.
In fact, the exact opposite is the case as any change of season invigorates with the welcome return of various foodstuffs from hibernation.
The rather gradual, month long ending of summer and beginning of autumn is no exception, September is my favourite month of the culinary calendar with a whole bunch of stuff returning to the table:
Ceps are in season, undeniably expensive and a pain to clean, they are the very best of wild mushrooms with their unique taste and very particular texture. Roast or grill them, serve with good olive oil, a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. There are many other wild mushrooms in season as well; look out for very large field, parasol or horse mushrooms which all can be treated as you would a steak. Remove the stalks and grill the caps on a charcoal barbecue, then slice them, place in a heatproof dish, return to the heat and slather them with garlic butter.
Mussels, due to cultivation and refrigerated transport, are not quite as seasonal as they used to be but their breeding season is now over, they have plumped up and are at their magnificent best, Moules marinieres are my favourite, though spicing them up with ‘black bean sauce’ in the Cantonese manner runs them a close second. Italians love them with a garlic laden tomato sauce (what a surprise.) Native oysters make a welcome and expensive return to the oyster bar at Sweetings. Plaice, whiting, cod and small halibut are all in their prime, caught sustainably by inshore ‘day boats.’ The herring shoals should be off the East Anglian coast now and worth a visit to Southwold harbour, Dunwich or Aldeburgh beach to buy some if you happen to be in the area.
Grouse is the only feathered game worth eating this month but in this case having no choice is no hardship. Hares have just finished their prolonged breeding season and the leverets will be off fending for themselves by now. Oddly it is not illegal to shoot hares during their breeding season but it is illegal to sell them. However by now they have become ‘fair game’ and are worth seeking out.
English apples and pears have just begun and demonstrate, by their taste and cooking qualities, the plain good sense in buying locally and seasonally. They cook and eat immeasurably better than any of the fruit shipped, all year round, in cold storage, from halfway round the world straight to your local supermarket shelf. Look out for the legendary Worcester Pearmain, it tastes of both apple and pear (the clue is in the name) and unfortunately is almost impossible to get in London except at some farmer’s markets. The same markets should have lots of other ‘orchard’ apples around in September, all of them interesting in some way or other and all of them produced in too small quantities to be commercially viable, but definitely worth seeking out. British plums are at their best now (time to make damson jam) Vineyard peaches and figs from France are fabulous towards the end of their season now.
Autumn is the time to cook lamb. New seasons’ or spring lamb is to my mind overrated, reared on hay and hurried to market it can be insipid. Lambs reared later from varied pastures and from further north will have developed a much more pronounced character. It is also a bit cheaper, particularly the racks and legs. Real lamb experts favour a butterflied shoulder on the barbecue. The component muscles have different thicknesses and degrees of tenderness, consequently they cook at different speeds and deliver an end result with enough variation in how well cooked they are to keep everybody happy. A friend of mine, Martin Saxon grills shoulders with absolutely no marination or seasoning. Liberal amounts of salt are added towards the end and his wife Sara, a talented chef-caterer, prepares innumerable delicious things to go with it, notable amongst which is a memorable tzaziki. September often has some of the best weather of what passes for summer these days in Britain so my mentioning their barbecue is no accident.
Alastair has introduced three new autumnal dishes to https://byalastairlittle.co.uk/ this month – Autumn Minestrone Soup with Porcini, and Borlotti beans; Cream of Mushroon Soup, and a rather special South Indian-style Cod Loin Curry. Visit the SHOP for these, plus a range of Alastair’s legendary dishes, all cooked to order and delivered fresh.