Autumn is a feast of riches when it comes to fresh produce.With the last of summer fruits and plenty of root vegetables coming into season, it’s no wonder autumn is seen as bountiful season. In fact, it is at this time of year in the UK when we celebrate the food grown on the land with the annual Harvest Festival.
This festival, which celebrates successful harvests, has been around since pagan times and is now celebrated in churches and schools around the UK. There are also similar festivals around the world, including the famous Thanksgiving day celebrations in Canada and the USA.
Celebrate the autumn harvest
Although dried figs are available all year round, there is nothing quite like the taste, texture and flavour of fresh figs. Available from summer throughout autumn, fresh figs have a delicate flavour and sweet aroma. Although they are originally from Asia, this luscious fruit is now grown all across the Mediterranean.
Wonderfully versatile, you can enjoy figs raw or grilled. Try drizzling raw figs with honey and serving with clotted cream for a delicious sweet treat, or add to a salad with Parma ham, goat’s cheese and rocket.
Top tip – figs do not ripen after picking, so unripe figs are to be avoided. To tell if they’re ripe, go for plump examples that feel soft with no bruising or splits. At peak ripeness they may be covered with a light, fuzzy bloom. Keep in the refrigerator and use within a day or two, as they have a short shelf life.
A quintessential autumn treat, pears come in a range of flavours and textures; and much like apples, there’s thousands of varieties including Conference, Comice, Red William and Rocha. Unlike most fruits, pears actually improve in flavour and texture after they are picked, so always buy under-ripe and then ripen at home. But be careful, as pears are very delicate and can bruise easily when ripe.
Although delicious enjoyed raw, pears are particularly great for dessert. Exceptional when poached with red wine and vanilla, they can also be used in a variety of baking recipes, such as chocolate and pear cake, pear tarte tatin, and sticky pear and ginger cake.
Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, pumpkin is quite possibly the poster child for autumn seasonal produce. With it’s hard orange skin, perfect for carving, and sweet flesh, it is the most famous of the squashes. The British season runs from October to December, and not only are pumpkins great for carving, but they are ‘scarily’ good for you too, as an excellent source of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Once you’ve carved your pumpkin for Halloween, keep the flesh for cooking. You can roast or boil and then mash pumpkin to enjoy as a tasty autumnal side dish, or even use it to make soups or add to stews. And of course, it is ideal for baking a traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie! Be sure to serve with lashings of cream.
Plums can come in many different guises: some sweet, other slightly more tart; for cooking or for eating; and in many different rich hues. However, they do have some common characteristics such as their smooth, richly coloured skin and a hard central stone. In fact, they are the juiciest fruit in the stone family.
Although available all year round, British varieties are in season from mid-August to October. As a late summer fruit with so many different varieties, colour isn’t the best indication of ripeness. Ripe plums have a firm flesh that fives a little when it’s gently squeezed, and if you’re planning to use plums in cooking, choose ones that are slightly firmer.
A member of the garlic and onion family, leeks have a harsh flavour when raw but a much subtler and sweeter flavour when cooked. Incredibly versatile, leeks work well cooked in various recipes or even as a side dish. Only very young leeks are eaten raw.
Leeks are available all year round, but they are definitely at their best from September through to March. When buying, go for small or medium sized leeks, as the larger variety can be tough and woody. Be sure to wash leeks thoroughly before trimming the base and the uppermost part of the leaves. Soil can easily get trapped between the many layers!
A great base for soups and casseroles, leeks are also delicious served with a homemade cheese sauce as a side dish. Or why not cook alongside chicken thighs and other root vegetables for a hearty stew?
What’s your favourite fruit and veg to enjoy at this time of year? Let us know below!