Ahead of his upcoming demo, in which he’ll cook and share seasonal recipes from The Borough Market Cookbook, Ed Smith talks about the arrival of autumn in the Market
When we set about planning, structuring and writing The Borough Market Cookbook, we decided at a fairly early stage that it ought to be a book about seasonal market shopping—essentially that, along with telling the story of Borough Market and the traders, it should be a guide to buying and cooking market ingredients as they change through the course of the year. Sounds simple (I hope), but there was for at least a short time a deliberation as to when we should say the seasons begin and end.
There were at least three options. Astronomically, seasons change according to the position of Earth in relation to the sun. Because of the elliptical nature of our orbit, the changing of the seasons is slightly fluid, which makes things a little messy. This year, for example, according to the astronomical calendar, autumn begins on 23rd September; next year it’ll be 22nd.
I liked the idea of taking the phenological approach, which relies on plant and animal behaviour—types of plants, changes in colours—to determine when seasons change. It felt appropriate, given the look and feel of produce markets changes discernibly with the season and arguably sets our shopping and eating moods. But again, perhaps a bit vague for a book, which needs a clear structure.
Bullish brassica displays
Finally, and the one we went for, the meteorological approach, which is that the year is divided into four, three-month seasons: in the northern hemisphere, spring is March, April, May; summer is June, July, August and so on. It’s neat, but I did worry a little bit about saying certain ingredients and styles of eating conformed to specific months, when clearly the changes are not quite as blunt as that.
Nearly one year on from publication, and I think the book and its structure has aged well. Meteorologically speaking, as of the start of this week, we’re in autumn now. I don’t know about you, but from where I was standing on 1st September, there was a discernible phenological change in seasons. We went almost overnight from a final (maybe) mini heatwave, to brisk winds, cold evenings and wet mornings.
Just as there are suddenly auburn and golden leaves on the trees and on the ground, the Market’s produce is rapidly changing too. At the moment the purples of aubergines, figs and plums are out in force. Bright yellow corn on the cobs are prevalent as well, but because they’re packaged by their natural, dull green husks rather than translucent plastic, they sit well alongside chard and increasingly bullish brassica displays, and the encroaching brown hue of mushroom season. Game is here—there are wild birds both plucked and in feather at the Market, as well as deer hanging ready to be stripped and renamed venison. It’s a great eating season, this, regardless of when it officially begins.
A toast to change
All of which is to say: I’m going to be cooking from the autumn section of The Cookbook in the Demonstration Kitchen on 20th September. Even if you’re strictly astrological and hanging on until the 22nd, it feels like a good time to talk about (and eat) things like creamed corn with lime and chilli squid; a venison chilli served with whole baked squash; and wild mushroom malfatti. There’ll be tasters throughout as we toast the change of season with a golden beetroot, carrot and ginger shrub, and finish with a roast plum and tarragon pavlova.
If you’ve cooked from the book over the course of the last year, I hope you’ve found it tasty. If you’re yet to, they’re always available at the Borough Store in the Market, and I will happily sign copies after the demonstration (perhaps during it, if I’ve got time and clean hands).
Join Ed for free tips, tastings and recipes Friday 20th September in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm