Autumn in the orchard
|Image: Avallen Spirits
I love this time of year. I love the colours on the trees and the way the wind sweeps leaves around you while you're out walking. I love sitting quietly, watching the sunsets and saying my goodbyes to swifts and pipistrelles. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the elegiac mood of early autumn makes me feel rather thankful for my life. There's something of the Harvest Festival in every moment - the culmination of spring and summer activity before nature goes dormant for the winter. "All is safely gathered in." It's the time when all my favourite foods become available, all of a sudden: wild mushrooms, oysters, game birds and orchard fruits.
The apple is the king of the orchard, and European cultures have found myriad uses for them. Obviously, we can eat them as they are; we also cook them in hundreds of dishes. We ferment them into cider, convert the cider to vinegar or distil it into brandy. We preserve foods with smoke from the prunings, and when the trees are old and unfruitful, we can leave them to host mistletoe plants or cut them down to make furniture with the wood. When you buy apples, try to get hold of some from a traditional orchard. It takes a plant a lot of energy to make scent and flavour. Smaller, older trees, therefore, producing fewer apples, are more able to consistently produce wonderfully aromatic fruit. Industrial production favours quantity, though, resulting in lots of identically large, shiny apples that are rather one-dimensional in flavour: green apples are sour & crisp; yellow ones softer and sweeter; red ones are very sweet. The apple is a relative of the rose and almond, and good apples will have hints of both flavours in them.
Cider, the fermented juice of the apple, can be a deliciously refreshing summer drink, but it should not be overlooked for the dinner table. A good, dry craft cider makes a better alternative to Champagne than Prosecco does, and it will sit comfortable with any rich charcuterie or offal dish. Try serving a light one with a salad of soused herring, white onion, grated apple and crème fraîche.
|Image: Avallen Spirits
If the apple is the king of the orchard, its queen is undoubtedly the pear. Like apples, pears found in supermarkets often lack flavour. Pears are typified by their light, fragrant quality, so this lack of flavour is a real problem. The solution, of course, lies in our willingness to seek out and support smaller producers. Under-ripe pears pickle well, in a syrup made from spices, cider vinegar and brown sugar. You can use them as an accompaniment to cheeses or rich meats. I love to chop them into a salad with blue cheese and fried bacon lardons. Pear Eau de Vie is very much appreciated in France. Usually distilled from Williams pears, it retains all the perfumed quality of the fruit and is most often served after dinner, sometimes warm, more usually with a little ice.
|Image: The Edge Gin
|Greengage plums macerating
in strong, white rum
Somerset Cider Brandy Co - https://www.somersetciderbrandy.com/
Ampleforth Abbey drinks - https://abbeyshop.ampleforth.org.uk/ampleforth-abbey-drinks-58-c.asp
Avallen Spirits - https://www.avallenspirits.com/
Masons Yorkshire Gin - https://masonsyorkshiregin.com/
The Edge Gin - https://www.theedgegin.co.uk/
All the fruits I've mentioned make delicious baked desserts and cakes, from Alsace tarte aux quetschs to baked apples and Ripon's celebrated Wilfra cakes. You can use the drinks, too, in a number of dishes. I will be writing about some of these in due course. Enjoy your autumn drinking!
|L toR: walnut liqueur, Slivovitz, greengage rum
Next time: What the hell do I do with an octopus???