September is sometimes a wily month, with the last little bursts of summery sunshine accompanied by the odd patch of rain (hang on, I might have just described summer!). As we move to autumn all sorts of new flavours start to appear on the scene and the last of the summer tastes linger just a little while longer before fading into the winter.
It’s always a special month for me as my wedding anniversary is right in the middle of it. Whichever way we celebrate, there tends to be good food involved. It’s also a beautiful time to be out in nature as the leaves start turning to russet and gold.
Even though the days start to shorten, I always feel like the world comes back to life a little in September after the absence of many people over the summer break. Everyone gets their heads down in the few months before the lead up to Christmas (yes, I know it’s a bit early to say the C word, but it is already on the horizon).
I find as the seasons change my body starts to want slightly different and more soothing foods. And with apples piling up on the trees nearby and the prospect of a bumper crop of blackberries, crumble is definitely calling.
And as this month is Organic September, you might even want to make some organic trade ups with my seasonal picks…
My September seasonal eating picks…
Apple Day, which celebrates this wonderful fruit, doesn’t actually happen until October, but already there are many cooking and eating apples springing up on trees around the UK. I have a Cox-Pippin tree in my front garden which has been covered with little apples for the last month (though some have been nabbed by passing apple lovers and the odd bird).
When my parents visit from Oz they’re always amazed at the different types of apples we have available. There are (literally) thousands of varieties, though we normally only have access to a handful in the supermarkets. This is definitely a case of it being worth exploring local markets and farm shops for something a bit out of the ordinary.
This goes with that
A few slices of crisp apple, a little brie, some dollops of homemade chutney and crackers or chewy sourdough make a very good way to enjoy this lovely fruit.
I also like apples grated into my porridge (or in overnight oats) with a faint drizzle of honey brings out the natural sweetness. Autumnal spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg of apple are good partners for apple. But I also like a bit of spice, so I sometimes add a sprinkle of chilli flakes or freshly ground black pepper when I chop them into one of my all time favourite desserts: crumble!
2. Butternut Squash
This is one of the vegetables that signals the true beginning of autumn; the very colour is autumnal. Roasting squash brings out its sweetness – and I like to keep the skin on for some extra texture and flavour. The sweetness of squash is why it’s also something you’ll see in desserts, particularly brownies (though this time without the skin!).
And if you want to save even more of the squash from the bin, keep hold of the seeds. Rinse them well in cold water to get rid of the squash tendrils (I tend to soak them for a few minutes first to make this easier). Dry the seeds, pop them on a baking tray and drizzle over a little oil and a pinch of salt. Roast at 140°C for about 20 minutes, shaking the tray a few times to make sure they cook evenly.
This goes with that
Squash loves Indian spices: coriander, cumin, cinnamon. It’s why you’ll see it in so many vegetarian curries. A more surprising (and delicious) combination is chocolate and cacao – check out my pumpkin cacao kapow balls if you want to try this. Sharp or salty cheese and butternut squash also work well together; try a sprinkle of feta, stilton or manchego with squash and quinoa in a warming autumn salad.
Blackberries are one of the best places to start if you’re interested in a spot of foraging. Half the pleasure of the picking is getting purple juice all over your finger tips and ‘taste testing’ as you. Just one tip – avoid blackberries that are low down on bushes near paths (passing dogs may have marked them!). Blackberries also freeze well so you can keep them well into the winter when all the bushes have been picked
This goes with that
Goat’s cheese, creamy Greek yoghurt or even a dollop of clotted cream are all lovely additions to a bowl of blackberries. I like to stir them with a little black pepper through porridge. A handful of blackberries is also a nice fruity addition to a salad, topped with walnuts, stilton and slices of fried red onion. Oh, and a little lemon zest adds a touch of freshness.
4. Pink Peppercorns
These little berries add a sprinkle of brightness to any dish you may care to add them in. They don’t have the spice of black pepper, but are more fruity with just the vaguest hint of heat. Technically pink peppercorns aren’t pepper, but are dried berries – though you can pretty much use them the same way as pepper. I normally crush them in my pestle & mortar before sprinkling over dishes.
This goes with that
One of my favourite ways to eat pink peppercorns is with dark chocolate and a little dried fruit. They are also really good with any sharp or tropical fruit; I particularly like them over pineapple (fresh or dried). Crushed in with other nuts, seeds and spices, they make a pretty addition to dukkah.
5. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is my go-to sugar for baking these days. As we go into autumn I tend to get a bit more baking fever going so I thought it was an appropriate one to include in the September picks. Coconut sugar has a lovely light caramel flavour that infuses itself into whatever you’re making. I use it any time a recipe calls for caster sugar; while it’s not quite as light, it nearly always works (even in meringues!). I find a little goes a long way and I often reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by a third – and my favourite brand is Biona.
Don’t be scared of using a little sweetness to balance out other flavours in savoury cooking. A little sprinkle in dressings, tomato sauce (the cooked type not ketchup!) or a few scoops in chutneys can help get the taste just right.
However – just one little warning – you do need to be careful not to consistently over-sweeten food as it can deaden your palate to sweetness. You then need to add more and more sweetness to get the same taste. That said, a judicious sprinkle of coconut sugar over your autumnal crumble is a great soother on a grey afternoon, so a little every now and then makes for a happy mouth.
What are you eating joyfully this month?