Flavours of Autumn

Autumn is my favourite time of the year for cooking and entertaining. I love to cook with wild mushrooms, orchard fruits, game birds and nuts. Autumn flowers may be hard to come by, but squashes, pumpkins and displays of golden foliage can bring great beauty to your table. Now's the time to let go of my preference for white linen and reach for the cinnamon-red tablecloth, or even a deep brown one.

I've been thinking about the flavours I particularly associate with autumn and how we might bring them to the aperitif table. I'll look at four flavours in particular: smoke, apples, pears and blackberries.

Smoked foods of all descriptions make for delicious aperitif nibbles. Simple cubes of smoked cheddar cheese are lovely with a sweet white wine. Look for something with a hint of apple, like a late harvest chenin blanc. Don't ever be afraid of serving a sweet wine as an aperitif. As well as wine, port, Madeira and sherry can all bring a touch of sophistication before dinner. Serve them lightly chilled with sliced smoked duck or venison. If you really want to push the boat out, crack open the Champagne and source some smoked prawns. Peeling them gets the smokey aroma all over your hands, and it seems a shame that we have to wash them!

I've already mentioned appley-tasting wine, haven't I? These autumn flavours work so well together that it's hard to separate them out.It would be a delightful touch to place a dish of cubed apple alongside your smoked cheddar and have your guests spear them together or separately with a supply of cocktail sticks. You'll need to drop the apple pieces into a bowl of salt water for 20 minutes or so to prevent them browning, then give them a quick rinse and dry before you serve them.

Calvados is the famous apple brandy of northern France. I've recently discovered Avallen calvados. It's made without the addition of sugar or caramel and is VERY apple-y! They have established a business model that diverts some of the profit to projects promoting healthy bee populations. Avallen suggest this delicious cocktail, created by Anya Montague of the Pollen Room international popup bars.
La Frangipanne - Shake together:

  • 45ml Avallen calvados
  • 15ml orgeat (almond) syrup
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • a dash of orange bitters
Strain into a coupe glass and top up with sparking wine.

Pears are my favourite fruit, and I particularly love the sweet, fragrant Williams ones. Harder varieties pickle well, and you might want to have a go at the recipe Delia Smith created (https://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/preserves/spiced-pickled-pears). They make a great accompaniment to pâté and fatty meats like duck or goose. I love to chop them up and serve a warm salad of bacon lardons, blue cheese, pickled pears and bitter leaves. It makes a simple but tasty starter and is perfect for the season.

I've written in the past about my love for Suze bitter aperitif. I found an easy recipe for an aperitif cocktail that combines the bitterness of Suze with the high fragrance of Williams pears. Eau de vie is a colourless, unsweetened spirit flavoured with different fruits and is a speciality of the east of France. It isn't cheap, but if, like me, you do treat yourself occasionally, it's worth getting in.
Triangle - in a mixing glass, stir together equal quantities of:
  • Suze aperitif
  • eau de vie Poire William
  • triple sec liqueur
Strain into a 'Nick and Nora' glass or coupe and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Like pears, blackberries pickle extremely well and can be added to salads and other dishes to bring a burst of sharpness. They're particularly good with oily fish like mackerel. Simply dissolve a couple of tablespoons of white sugar and a tablespoon of salt in a mixture of red wine vinegar and water (about half a pint of each) and our over a jar of washed blackberries. Seal the jar and leave at the back of a cool cupboard for about a week.
The blackberry liqueur crème de mûres mixes particularly well with Champagne. It's also the centrepiece of a cocktail that has become a modern classic: the Bramble.

Home made blackberry liqueur, made with Irish whiskey

Fill a short glass with crushed ice. Place ice cubes in a shaker with:
  • 45ml dry gin
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • 12.5ml gomme syrup
Shake hard to mix and strain into the glass of ice. Top up the glass with more crushed ice and pour over 10ml of crème de mûres. Garnish with a fresh blackberry and serve with a short straw.


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