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Flavours of October

18 October 2012
Flavours of October

British Larder chef Madalene Bonvini-Hamel creates some recipes using the finest produce available this month, while supplier James Wellock looks at the ingredients coming on line in November

With a relatively hot and dry September, the wild mushrooms have come and gone very quickly (in my part of the world, anyway).

If it's still warm, game does not tend to feed well, but as the nights cool down their feeding starts to improve.

The hedgerow berries have a short shelf life, so now is the time to make the most of foraged foods before the frosts settle in.

Root vegetables require the frost to improve their flavour. For example, the peppery fire in turnips comes out after the first frost and the sweetness of parsnips develops once the fields are frosted over.

Game is in abundance, with wild ducks, partridge, pheasants, plover and grouse all doing particularly well. Why not make a batch of crab apple jelly to accompany your roasted game of choice?

Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, parsnips and celeriac are back on the menu, as we now begin to settle for slow-cooked comforting dishes.

As game, red meat and poultry grace our menus, the light and quick summery fish dishes make way for hearty, soulful numbers, such as fish soup with rouille. Monkfish, John Dory and langoustines are all perfect at this time of the year.

Butternut squash
Butternut squash is a bulbous, pear- or club-shaped winter squash. The skin is creamy, orange-beige in colour and the firm, orange flesh is used as a vegetable on its own (the flesh is often roasted to bring out its sweetness) or with other ingredients in savoury dishes. Fresh, young butternut squash can be cooked with their skins on, but the longer the squash are stored and the older they get, the harder the skin becomes - the squash then needs peeling before cooking. The seeds are also delicious when roasted and seasoned with coarse sea salt and ground spices.

Domesticated ducks reared for their meat, down and eggs are available all year round, but the wild species, such as mallard, teal and widgeon, are in season from October to December. Some of the finest eating ducks are reared in the UK - and they're some of the best from a welfare point of view as well as their eating quality. Aylesbury ducks from Buckinghamshire are perhaps the best known, as they have been bred since the 18th century. Pure Aylesbury duck is prized for its tenderness.

With the introduction of Pekin ducks during the 19th century, people started to cross-breed. Aylesbury ducks are less fatty than Pekin ducks and are also good egg layers, but they are becoming scarcer.

Goosnargh ducks from Lancashire, with their white feathers and yellow beaks, are a cross between Aylesbury and Pekin ducks. They are ideal for the table as there is a good balance of meat to bone. Gressingham ducks from East Anglia are a cross between wild mallard and Pekin ducks.

Ducks are naturally high in fat and, once rendered, their fat is perfect for making delicious roast potatoes.

Elderberries are harvested during the summer and early autumn. These dark purple berries not only feed our game birds during the early part of autumn, they are also a fantastic find for the keen forager and wild food collector. Elderberries have been used for medicinal purposes for many years, but they are also great for making elderberry wine, jam or vinaigrettes and can be used in desserts such as crumbles and pies.

Leeks are members of the onion family. Thin leeks or baby leeks have a milder flavour than larger ones, but in general, leeks have a milder and sweeter taste than onions. Combined with other aromatic vegetables, they are often used to make a mirepoix when preparing stocks and sauces. Leeks are also perfect for making soups and stews, as well as being used in tarts and pie fillings.

This humble root vegetable has a unique mustardy/peppery, and slightly spicy, sweet flavour and crisp texture, especially when small and young. Turnips can be eaten raw (small young turnips are delicious when shaved or grated into salads), roasted, sautéd, boiled or pickled. Turnip leaves can also be cooked and they taste mustardy - not dissimilar to mustard greens.

Seasonal best during October…

Apples, artichokes, aubergines, beetroot, blackberries, black cabbage (Cavolo Nero), brill, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbages, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, chestnuts, chickweed, chives, clams, cobnuts, cod, coley, crab, crab apples, duck, elderberries, fennel, figs, flounder, garlic, golden plover, goose, grapes, grey mullet, grouse, guinea fowl, haddock, hake, halibut, hare, hawthorn berries, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, John Dory, kale, kohlrabi, lamb, langoustines, leeks, lemon sole, lettuce, lobster, mackerel, mallard, marrow, medjool dates, medlars, mint, monkfish, mussels, onions, oysters, parsnips, partridge, peaches, pears, peppers, pheasant, plaice, pollack, potatoes (main crop), prawns, pumpkin, quinces, rabbit, radishes, rocket, rosehips, rosemary, rowanberries, sage, scallops, sea bass, shallots, skate, sloes, squid, swede, Swiss chard, teal, thyme, truffles (black), tufted duck, turbot, turnips, venison, walnuts, watercress, widgeon, wild mushrooms (autumn), winkles, woodcock, woodpigeon.

What's in store next month

James Wellock of fresh and dried ingredients supplier Wellocks takes a look at what's coming into season in November

For me, cold winter nights brightened only by fireworks herald "back to basics" veg with a couple of sparklers thrown in for good measure.

A good frost is essential to give all the vegetables that winter feel and really bring out their best flavour. This is most apparent in sprouts and I would not touch them until they have had it. I really do believe that Scottish sprouts and swede are the best in the UK, especially between Berwick and Perth where the soil just seems to love these two vegetables.

Cabbages are amazing just now, with the first January King making their way to the market - this has amazing red and green colours going through it and the flavour is great. There will, of course, be red and white plus the cabbage developed for harsh winter weather, Savoy. Cooked in the right way, they will all deliver flavour, but, more importantly, as they cost about 60p each your gross profit will soar. I must not forget celeriac either - cubed and cooked slowly in butter with strips of Savoy is a favourite of mine.

Squashes and pumpkins will be everywhere. Onion and butternut are the best squash, in my opinion, while the French muscade pumpkin is the only one to use.

Beetroot is becoming ever more popular and is now available in five colours. The standard red, golden and candy (originally known as choggia), which has beautiful pink and white stripes running through it, are all available from UK growers. The crapaudine, which is similar in shape to a parsnip, is predominantly from France.

The root veg all play a pivotal part at this time of year with French chervil and parsley root adding a zing to the norm. Parsnips and carrots offer lots of options here. My favourite, the chantenay carrot, is so sweet and if you are buying the category 1 size (the smallest) you don't even have to peel them. Marrying these with baby parsnips (which have around a 35mm crown), both at approximately £1.50 per kg, gives you two very attractive, tasty and pretty much prep-free vegetables.

One of my best discoveries has been a grower of UK onions that offers consistent quality for around 10 months of the year. As an easy option, everybody always buys large Spanish, but while the English ones are like iron they are not full of water, they are more intense in flavour and quicker to cook. With a local grower is that as you walk around the farm you realise that all onions are not the same size. Onions the size of a pound coin can be used - just roast off baby red and brown onions whole for any winter dish.

My two sparklers are on the fruit side, with Dutch forced rhubarb becoming more affordable in November, and South African cherries probably available in the second week - but they will be expensive.

Duck lasagne with crispy duck winglets and turnip cream >>

Baked butternut squash and chickpea falafels with pickled elderberries >>

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