We have tipped into Late Summer. I think this time, from late August to the start of October, is a season in its own right, a transition from one thing to the next, a time to celebrate the harvest whilst letting go of the busy-ness of the longest days. I used to feel sad at the onset of autumn but now it’s one of my favourite times of year…as summer’s end I finally get my days at the seaside (we never holiday during peak season, I’m usually busy with work), the light is gloriously golden, and the allotment, garden and kitchen is filled with rich colour: oranges, yellows, purples and reds.
We’ll be harvesting hops soon; their papery husks are filled with resiny fragrance. Not that I know what to do with them as we never get around to turning them into beer…perhaps this year we’ll use them as an outdoor cut flower display for the garden. Slightly more excitingly, for me at least, is the swelling of the borlotti beans: the irresistible hot pink pods open up to reveal rows of beautifully striped beans, which sadly turn to humble brown when cooked. I’ll freeze these fresh from the pods to use in chillis during the winter.
As ever, the courgettes quickly became a burden this year and I stopped harvesting them a few weeks ago. As a result we now have an abundance of whopper marrows, which I enjoy looking at if not eating. Next to them the autumn squash have become triffid-like, stretching their growing shoots to anywhere where they find space, and using the more sturdy of the dahlia plants as a climbing frame. Incidentally I never label my squash as I enjoy the mystery, come October, of finding out what we’ve got this year (I never remember what I have sown). Will it be a Turks Turban or a Jill Be Little?
The cut flower have held up well, considering the storms. Well, they are mostly now growing horizontally, but they’re still standing, so I take that as a small victory. This year we have an abundance of hot pinks and oranges, with the chrysanthemum, dahlias and straw flower putting on particularly flamboyant shows.
Traditionally at harvest time, growers would store their hard-won produce and then sell or give-away any excess – this exchange would fill up holes in one’s own supply. It’s an age-old habit that still exists now, and this week I have happily exchanged sunflowers for tomatoes, raspberries for damsons. Alex’s black tomatoes, still warm from the greenhouse, are big enough to carve and eat with a knife and fork – and I did just that, anointing them with olive oil, salt and a sprinkling of dill. Late august perfection.
The damsons demanded some cooking, however. Now I say damsons but I am pretty sure that these little black beauties are actually bullace, which is a type of wild plum, indigenous to the British Isles. They came from my friend Hannah’s back garden and indeed there is debate in her house as to whether they have damsons or bullace. Either way, they are as seasonal to late summer as asparagus is to May. Incidentally, I would never want to buy a damson – to me they are a foraging food, or at least one that should be scavenged from a friend’s orchard or a neighbour’s tree, leaving fingers stained purple and legs sore with nettle stings. A damson that arrives at the kitchen wrapped in plastic is going against the natural order of things.
I stewed the damsons/bullace with a handful of plums in just a little water and sugar until soft, then picked out the little hard stones, a laborious but essential job. They create a syrup the colour of lipstick. Top with a basic sponge batter and a sprinkling of flaked almonds, and you have the perfect late summer pudding.
Plum & bullace pudding cake
The bullace can be exchanged for plums or damsons. The amount of sugar needed will vary according to the ripeness of your fruit – an unripe damson can taste like sucking a battery, but a ripe one can be lusciously sweet.
About 500g plums, bullace, damsons or a mixture of the three
For the sponge:
100g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
flaked almonds, for sprinkling
First prepare your fruit. If using plums or damsons, halve them and remove the stones. The bullace can be cooked whole. Place in a lidded pan with a splash of water and sugar to taste – I would start with 2 tablespoons and add more if required. Simmer the fruit until soft and the juices run, about 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool then fish out any stones.
Grease an oven-proof dish that is of a suitable size to take your fruit and sponge. Using a slatted spoon, transfer the fruit to the dish, keeping any juices in the pan. Return the pan to the heat and reduce the juices down to make a syrup, then pour this over your fruit. Set aside whilst you make the sponge.
Preheat the oven to 180c.
In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour, beat to combine, then beat in the remaining flour, baking powder and vanilla extract. When fully combined spoon the batter onto the fruit, then smooth the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Bake for about 45 minutes until golden and set firm. Cool slightly before serving.
Also this week:
Cooking and eating: Roast lamb and dauphinoise potatoes, the first truly autumnal dinner of the season. Shepherds pie with the leftovers. Spaghetti with tomatoes and runner beans. Jam turnovers. Baked pancakes with blueberries. Korean vegetable pancakes, hot with gochujang.
Harvesting: TONS of raspberries, I have no freezer space left. Plus chard, dahlias, cosmos, chrysanthemum, ammi, zinnia, marigolds. A few beans but they’re over now really.
Also: Upping my fitness with Jessica Ennis-Hill’s HIIT app, which is leaving me a sweaty mess but is fun, plus weekly yoga with Mel.