An early cold snap might well finish off the more tender northern European crops, but it can only help the flavour of hardy brassiccas and roots. The plants convert starch to sugar to lower their freezing point and protect themselves from freezing.
Brussels sprouts are looking good and are fairly plentiful. They already tasted good, but are bound to be even sweeter after a frost. Brussels tops are excellent value, high in iron and healthy antioxidants. Green and red curly kales are both at their peak, and red Russian kale is a treat. January King and late Primo cabbages continue to shine, and there are some great autumn greens about, too. Parsnips are the best roots at present for value and taste, and sugar levels will be building in the fields as we go to press. Turnips, swedes and celeriac are excellent, as are French Jerusalem artichokes.
Unusual apple varieties include Blue Pearmain, with their purple-red blush striped and flecked Red Fiesta wonderfully crisp and surprisingly flavourful tree-ripened English Golden Delicious rustic Blenheim Orange Egremont Russets and the first few of this season's delicious Golden Temptations.
Tomatoes are down from the heady heights of a fortnight ago, and there are a few interesting varieties turning up at reasonable prices as Dutch and English producers clear out their glasshouses. We have had some excellent round yellow vine tomatoes from Holland and English midi plum tomatoes.
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Bad weather has seen poor landings across the country this past week. However, there have been good landings of cod, haddock and halibut from Scotland, and good supplies of large plaice. Sardines are around, from Cornwall, and expect fresh anchovies to follow as well. There are some excellent sprats coming from the English Channel, and day-boat squid from the same location. Crabs and lobsters are in good condition still and, despite the disastrous supply last week, langoustines are coming down from Scotland again.
English mackerel quotas are all but finished. There are some arriving from Denmark, however. And the first of the black bream are arriving from the Channel Islands.
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Recent rain has made shooting hard, meaning there is a shortage of duck and wood pigeon. Hares also are reluctant to come out in the wet, so are scarce. Pheasants are in good number, though, with plenty of meat now on them.
The forecast for the woodcock season is good this year, with excellent breeding conditions prevailing in Russia and Scandinavia. The birds migrate to Britain when the ground freezes in the eastern countries, traditionally arriving on the first full moon of November, which is known as Hunter's Moon and falls on 13 November this year.
Lambs are big as the season comes to an end, so expect supplies to switch to mutton in the coming months.
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Pressed terrine of pheasant, ham hock and foie gras with spiced apple purée
Ingredients (Serves 15-20)
2 ham hocks
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig thyme
550ml duck fat
300g foie gras
Salt, pepper and sugar
6 shallots, diced
1 shot brandy
For the apple purée
5 Braeburn apples
Pinch of five spice powder
Carrots and bread
Wash the ham hocks for 3-4 minutes in running cold water. Place in a large pan, cover with water, add an onion, carrot, cloves of garlic and thyme. Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked and the meat is falling off the bone (about four hours).
Confit the pheasant legs slowly in duck fat for an hour. Remove from fat, take off the bones and flake the meat into a bowl and check for shot.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roast the crown of pheasant for about 10 minutes until pink, then remove and rest for a few minutes. Take off the bone, remove the skin and cut each breast in half lengthways. Take the foie gras and remove the veins. Cut into rough cubes and season with sugar, salt, pepper and brandy and leave for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, flake the ham hock into a bowl.
Slice the shallots finely and sweat down in a pan with chopped thyme and garlic until soft. Take the diced foie gras and, under a gentle grill, warm the cubes slowly until the fat starts coming out, then drain on a clean cloth.
Put the flaked pheasant, ham hock and shallots into a large bowl and gently mix together. Add the foie gras and season with salt and pepper. Take half of the mix and put into a terrine mould, then take the pheasant breasts and place down the centre of the terrine. Add the remainder of the flaked meat to fill the terrine mould. Cover and press with a heavy weight overnight.
To make the apple purée, peel and core five apples. Chop roughly and place in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add a pinch of five spice and a drop of water, cover and bring to the boil. When the apple is soft, blend it until you get a fine purée, then pass through a sieve.
To serve, take a generous slice of the terrine, place on a flat plate and add a spoonful of apple purée. Season the terrine with olive oil and a little rock salt and serve with carrots and warm bread.
Andrew McLeish, head chef, Chapter One, Bromley, Kent