In this series, Sybil Kapoor explores how a sense of seasonality in your cooking can be enhanced through colour, forms, textures and aromas, which together create an emotional resonance, evoking a time and place
As the rain patters down outside, I’m filled with a sense of happiness. There is something dreamy about a wet October weekend, when you can relax at home, reading, chatting and messing about in the kitchen. After all, who can resist a cosy telly supper or some homemade butterscotch popcorn with a box set on a stormy autumn night?
Such days need a few supplies close to hand, such as golden syrup and salty unpasteurised butter for the popcorn and maybe a French stick, some gruyere, squash and onions for a rich butternut squash soup topped with cheesy croutons.
For anyone who loves cooking, October is a brilliant month for the sheer number of seasonal ingredients and the opportunities to cook them. Fish such as turbot and brill are plump from summer feeding and the game season is in full swing with pheasant, partridge and mallard, all tender enough to serve plainly roasted.
A Dutch still life
There is an abundance of vegetables and pulses to satisfy even the most demanding vegetarian—from weird and wonderful squash to beautiful split peas and cabbages worthy of a Dutch still life. Best of all, it is peak season for British apples, pears and quince.
Traditionally, October marks the start of the party season. For some, this means a dinner or lunch party, for others drinks or a casual meeting up before going out. No matter whether you are serving a meal or informal nibbles, it’s important to have a good balance of ingredients, textures and colours. There is nothing worse than being served a soft, beige meal.
For a truly seasonal feel, try and play on the colours of autumn by reflecting rural colours with your chosen ingredients. A simple bowl of orange-fleshed, inky blue-shelled mussels in a creamy cider sauce, flecked with parsley and served with some crusty bread to mop the juices, for example, will conjure up brilliant autumn skies and brisk sea breezes, especially if followed by an amber apple tart and accompanied by some crisp English wine.
In a more formal setting, seared turbot or brill with a cream and grape sauce (made by reducing fish stock, white wine and cream before adding peeled grape halves) will evoke misty Downs. Add some wilted shredded cabbage or a few sautéed potatoes for further colour.
Roast pheasant might be accompanied by green cabbage and bacon or served more classically, with a rosy blob of apple and rowanberry jelly alongside bread sauce, peas and such like. Cooked quince and apple or quince and pear pureed together make wonderful fools, fluffs and soufflés for a delicate light pudding.
Rustic informal suppers might include tomato rich stews of white cannellini beans and green cabbage (flavoured with parmesan rind) or aromatic Moroccan spiced lamb or beef baked in or with squash or pumpkin. And, although humble, everyone loves baked apples, especially when stuffed with spiced sugary butter, lemon zest and raisins and served with some thick double cream. You could even bake tiny crab apples and add them to warm spiced ale to make lamb’s wool! The crab apples burst open in the warm ale to create a woolly apple froth—perfect for Halloween.
Ingredients, textures and colours
If you are serving canapés, the same ideas of balancing ingredients, textures and colours should apply. Mussels could be cooked and shelled ahead and then warmed in a lightly curried sauce before being slipped into delicious flaky vol-au-vent cases.
Leeks can be grilled, cut into chunks and threaded on to cocktail sticks with grapes and feta. Homemade pickled quince can be sliced and served on croutons with a luscious cheese or chicken liver pate—the latter will need a scattering of herbs to add a bit of colour.
However, if you just feel like messing about in the kitchen, it’s worth preserving the last of the autumn gluts. You can pickle crab apples or turn them into jelly or fruit cheese. Quince can be turned into cordials and make lovely fruit cheese and soft butter, but my favourite way of preserving them is to pickle them in spicy sweet vinegar. Both cooking and dual-purpose varieties of apples make superb jellies, cheeses and chutneys. You might even consider making some mincemeat for Christmas!