Things are not as they seem.
It’s October and autumn has descended like a soft cloud over Scotland. The arrival of noticeably cooler, shorter days and darker evenings gives the impression that we’re very much at the tail end of the food year.
But nature isn’t finished. Not by a long shot.
Plants have been benefitting from the sun’s energy since Spring.
They are still busy converting it into ripe, sweet offerings we can enjoy for months to come, especially if we store carefully by jamming [insert generic Bob Marley joke here], or freezing.
The word harvest is derived from the word haerfest which was the name for the entire season we now call autumn which encompasses September and October.
This gives you a clue to the fact that, even as leaves on trees and late greenhouse tomatoes succumb to the inevitable and tumble to earth, this remains a great time of year to enjoy local, Scottish food.
Many fruits are at their most abundant right now. We can see it in our brightly speckled hedgerows full of red rowan and hawthorn berries.
Plus the dark and brooding elderberry which can be found on trees where the elderflowers weren’t entirely plundered by over-eager foragers earlier in the year.
I must admit to taking a few bunches of creamy white elderflower myself to make a cordial and it was delicious – richer than the shop-bought version and very nice with a decent gin. Learn from my mistake and avoid cheap gin that inevitably leaves you awake at 3am with an extreme bout of existential angst.
Orchard fruits are about to hit “peak orchard”. My two small apple trees are heaving with fruit. The shiny baubles look ready but each trial pick has so far been a very tart experience, sending my mouth into full “cat bottom mode” as my late granddad used to call it when I was too young to
understand what that meant.
Good things come to those who wait. By late October, there will be a steady supply of tangy, crisp apples.
I wonder why more gardens and other green spaces in Scotland aren’t full of fruit trees. Even small spaces can accommodate dwarf varieties. I have a postage-stamp garden and put my first apple tree into the ground five years ago.
It’s on dwarf rootstock which means it will never grow beyond seven feet tall and shouldn’t annoy the neighbours, unlike my very loud children.
The tree grows denser each year, springing with pink blossom followed by buckets of apples in Autumn. My other tree is in a pot on the patio. This is its very first year and at least a dozen bright red fruits hang down, getting redder by the day.
Fruit trees add form and function to a space, take very little time to look after and kids love to pick the fruit and eat it straight from the tree – so don’t go spraying them!
The fruit that is.
You can spray children. They love it, so long as it’s water, not pesticides.
Autumn is not just for fruits, even though they hog the headlines. A whole range of vegetables are also at their peak now. Some, such as root veg have a special ability, shared with badgers and moles and suchlike, to seek underground warmth to maintain growth.
But all manner of tasty green veg can thrive well into autumn and beyond.
Don’t forget squashes. The smaller, more varied cousins of the ubiquitous pumpkin make a truly seasonal roast veg when oven-baked with a few warming spices for an hour or so.
Scottish meat is great now too with grazing animals benefitting from months of plentiful pasture.
It is really in late autumn, not Spring, that the best lamb can be found. My more knowledgeable farming colleagues tell me that Easter lamb is in fact a slightly artificial feast, with farmers forced to produce outside of the natural season which would usually involve a spring-born lamb eaten in the autumn.
Scottish lamb served in Easter has either been deep frozen, born in the depths of winter when grass is minimal and conditions are harsh, or else it was from last year’s Spring so is actually a hogget.
Hogget can be a delicious thing but is potentially harder to find unless you’re on first name terms with a butcher. Which I want to be.
I am trying my very best to find some blackface lamb before November arrives. It’s a speciality of
Southern Scotland which thrives on the Pentland Hills which overlook Edinburgh and which should be incredible right now.
It’s proving elusive, not featuring in the shops I use. Which says more about me than it does the farmers. Must try harder.
So, as we enter the final phase of the year it may appear that growth is at an end but this is an illusion – October is very firmly still harvest time and we can all enjoy it, providing we are lucky enough to have access to the great Scottish produce which is still only sporadically distributed across our lands, which is another matter altogether!
As always, thanks for reading and sharing. Hope to see you next month.
I made these for some friends coming round. I designed them to be easy to make and easy to eat in the dark in front of a chimenea. They worked well.
• 16 small meatballs (I used pre-made, organic pork meatballs)
• 4 chestnut mushrooms, quartered
• 16 sage leaves (I have a plant in my garden)
• 4 slices of beetroot, quartered.
• Oil for drizzling.
• 16 cocktail sticks
• Non-stick baking tray.
• Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
• Carefully skewer, in order, the meatball, beetroot slice, sage leaf and mushroom. Be
particularly careful with the beetroot, which takes some skewering.
• Balance on a baking tray (you may need to squish down to enable this).
• Drizzle with oil and season.
• Bake for 25 mins.
• Serve warm, with a dip of choice such as a nice relish, sour cream or even ketchup.