Flavours of September
September is one of those months where you need to be on top of your game.
No, I’m not talking about the Glorious Twelfth, but the sheer amount of local produce that comes through at this time of the year. We all know that working with the seasons pays massive dividends, so to get the most out of what is available both here and from Europe, read on.
Mushrooms always take centre stage at this time of the year, with Scottish chanterelle and girolle being firm favourites. The quality and flavour are outstanding and the price makes them even more attractive. Also, keep an eye out for the graded cep bouchon and black trompette.
Stoned fruit will be at its absolute best, with loads of varieties such as excalibur, mirabelle, Marjorie’s seedling, opal and Victoria all jostling for attention. If there’s a time to have plums on the menu it’s now, but do make sure you get them when they’re ripe. The last thing you should do is store them in the fridge. They’re happiest when they’re at room temperature and they will literally ooze juice and flavour! Weather permitting, damsons also appear, but you’ve got to look sharp.
France continues to yield some fantastic grapes. The Chasselas de Moissac and Muscat de Hambourg are exceptional. True, they do have pips, but the juicy, flavourful aroma and crisp tasting pulp more than makes up for this. Both varieties are grown in the rich soil of the Moissac slopes and have the kind of heritage other growers can only dream of. The slopes also produce delightful plums, melons, apples and cherries.
Fresh almonds are coming to a close, but fear not as walnuts are coming into their own and local walnut trees should be full. When the nuts appear on the ground with split hulls, that’s a sign to get cracking! If you pull the hulls and the tissue between the hull and the kernel is brown – bingo. Store for a couple of weeks in the fresh air and the hulls will begin to break and they are ready to go. Walnuts – with their distinct flavour and moist texture – are the perfect example of fresh is best.
Vegetables from off-the-beaten-track will be coming on board this month: red meat radish, crapaudine and white beetroots, chervil and parsley roots and a much-neglected fruit – quince. It’s from the same family as the apple and pear and has been around for centuries. As far as I’m concerned, it’s never been away and is absolutely perfect for jams, jelly and quince pudding. It is extremely bitter and shouldn’t be eaten raw, but the unmistakable perfume punches through when it’s added to desserts such as apple pie. A lot of people use it as a paste, or membrillo, which is great when served with an interesting cheese.
As you will know, I’m a huge fan of the Provence black fig and I’m always keen to promote produce when it’s in season, but this really is a gem that we should all be using – especially as the only other fig variation comes all the way from Brazil. The fruit that really flies in September is the local apple crop. There are loads of varieties that will be coming at you from all directions but what a great position to be in.
Another great September vegetable is the Muscade pumpkin. Absolutely wonderful in soups, it has a smooth, velvety texture and superb flavour. At the other end of the scale, but not when it comes to flavour, is the wee bee little, which has a lovely sweet flesh and is ideal for individual servings. Then there’s the mild and juicy harlequin, gem and onion squash and the beautifully scallop-shaped pattison with a tender, bright orange flesh.
You’ll find that English runner beans will be nearing the end, but there are some great French varieties to be found. The French Tarbais bean is a perfect example; brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, it thoroughly took to the sunny, dry climate of southwest France. You can get them fresh or semi-dry and they are perfectly at home in a traditional Gascon cassoulet.