Comfort food for cosy autumn nights

It’s not just the kitchen that changes but ingredients too. In Northern Ireland you used to be able to pick blackberries until the end of September, even early October, so we made the first crumble then, blackberries and apples under a crust of toasted hazelnuts, butter, wholemeal flour and brown sugar. Every year I think about Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry-Picking, a melancholic poem that reminds you how violently things can change in this season. The picked berries never last until the next day. You have to cook them as soon as you get them home, and if you put off making that crumble, the possibility will be lost. 

Sleepy looking pears have to be gently prodded to check for ripeness, and quinces, weighty and voluptuous, arrive in October. They’re like a fruit from another age. Wild ones still grow at the foot of the mountains between Iran and Turkmenistan. You have to cook them, their flesh is rock hard, but it softens to a honeyedness that works beautifully with lamb and pork. 

We tend to regard autumnal food as brown but just look: beets the colour of red wine, tangles of emerald green watercress, orange pumpkins. Wild mushrooms smell of the forest floor, and bags of grains and pulses are pulled from the back of cupboards. You oversee roasts and braises and indulge in more carbs than usual. I start baking on a Sunday afternoon again so there’s something sweet to eat at 4pm. The griddle, the star of summer cooking, lies untouched, and cast-iron casseroles and gratin dishes take up residence on the kitchen counter. 

Despite the fact that you’re hibernating, by moving indoors, you want people round the table. I welcome more friends for supper in the autumn than at any other time of year. Everything slows down so you have time to talk as well as cook. It’s the best season.

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