I love, love, love October. The leaves! The slight chill in the air! The colours! I know everyone raves about Autumn or Fall, to be all American about it, but surely even the most cynical of seasonal apathists must take some pleasure in this time of year.
For me, it’s the autumnal harvest that does it- some of my favourite things come to bountiful fruition over this period. Blackberries, apples, pumpkins and squash, leafy green kale, root veg, chestnuts, game. It’s all good, hearty stuff for when the nights begin to draw in and there’s lots of brilliant (and some shamefully awful) period drama on telly.
Plums take centre stage in this post- wonderfully versatile in that they can be transformed into sweet, salty or spicy treats. I think they are really delicious with rich meats or pungent cheeses in the form of a chutney. The European plum is in season from August until the end of this month, so get pickling now.
The delicious vanilla-scented upside down plum cake was actually one I made towards the end of the summer, as a treat to enjoy when we were queueing for the proms. Make sure you caramelise the plums completely to get that gorgeous sticky crunch at the top.
You will need:
2 tbsp butter
5 large plums, roughly chopped
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp mustard seeds
100 ml honey or syrup
50 g sugar
1 red chili, chopped
200 ml white wine
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1. Melt the butter over a low heat and add the plums, onion, garlic and mustard seeds. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add the honey, sugar and chili and stir for a few moments. Add the liquid ingredients and cook over a low heat for about 25-30 minutes. The plums should begin to melt and thicken into a jam-like consistency.
3. Season with salt and pepper before transferring to a sterilised jar and allowing to cool. The chutney will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
You will need:
150g butter, softened
3 tbsp milk
270g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 tsp butter
1 vanilla pod
4.5 tbsp icing sugar
1. Put the oven on to 200 C and line and grease a loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin. Halve the plums and remove their stones.
2. Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the milk.
3. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly add to the mixture.
4. Melt the 3 tsp of butter and add the plums. Coat with the melted butter before adding the icing sugar. Sizzle until the plums start to caramelise slightly. Arrange in the bottom of the cake tin, cut side facing down.
5. Pour the cake batter into the tin and put in the oven for 30-35 minutes. To check if the cake is ready, prick with a cake tester- it should come out clean and the top of the cake should be slightly golden.
Green Tomatoes! Instalment no. 2
Chutney seemed the way forward as a good way to get those pesky green toms used up. Our fridge is now completely filled with preserves- chili jam, tomato chutney and pear chutney. Prepared for the winter months? Absolutely!
This is a Nigel Slaterism- a mixed red and green tomato chutney, to balance out the tartness of the green ones.
You will need:
900g tomatoes (red&green)
90 g raisins
250g light muscavado
1 hot red chili
2 tsp mustard seeds
300mil white wine vinegar
Halve all the tomatoes.
Put green fruit together with roughly chopped onions, raisins, sugar, chili, salt, mustard seeds and vinegar.
Bring to boil, turn down to simmer, stirring once in a while. Simmer for an hour, adding red tomatoes about halfway through the cooking process.
Spoon into sterilized jars and seal.
I’ve had a weekend of excessive brunching, including this rather amazing sausage thing, courtesy of the Salad Club, which also inspired me to make chili jam, following the Salad Club’s tips (I have been exploring quite a lot of food blogs of late!) It reduced down to something quite extraordinarily gooey and jammy, but so much so that it only made two jars. Instead of 4-5! And I don’t think that my two jars will last long either…
Anyway, only one cure for all this excess, thought I. Something light and salad-shaped on Sunday evening. But despite having the very best of intentions, I’m afraid, dear reader, I succumbed to this cheddar and cream-laden potato and leek gratin instead. I did serve it with a nice side salad, though. And then had cheese with the chili jam after. There’s also been a bit of a port theme in my flat at the moment. Ah well.
Leek and Potato Gratin.
A meal in itself or a perfect accompaniment.
You will need:
Two leeks (cleaned and chopped)
Two large baking potatoes (peeled and sliced into 2 cm thick slices)
Two garlic cloves
Some white wine, if you have some to hand (I did)
Cheddar (a large handful, grated)
1. Crush your garlic and put in a pan with a bit of butter
2. Add leeks and fry till soft, don’t burn!
3. Par-boil your spud slices for a good 10 min. Arrange in an oven proof dish.
4. Add leeks.
5. Pour over cream, to your liking, but I would say you definitely need at least 200ml.
7. Add breadcrumbs and cheese.
8. Bake in a hot oven (200/gas mark 6) for half an hour until the top is golden and the potatoes are cooked through. Serve with salad, bread and ham perhaps.
Instalment no. 3 (last one, I promise!)
I saved the best for last though. This chutney has an almost Christmas-like deep spiceyness (from the cinnamon and cloves) and a slightly oriental sweet&sour thing going on too (from the ginger and chili). At the same time. Somehow. I can’t get enough of it. I’m eating it with EVERYTHING!
Spicy sweet & sour pear chutney
(makes one large jar)
7 pears, chopped and cored
1 large red chili, finely chopped
5cm fresh ginger, chopped
4 garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground cloves
100 ml sugar
100 ml cider vinegar
1. Bring pears, chili, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cloves to a simmer, adding water if you think it’ll burn (although pears generally tend to be juicy enough for this not to happen). Simmer for at least 10 min
2. Add sugar and vinegar and let it cook for about 15 min until the sugar has dissolved and the chutney has thickened.
3. Decant into sterilised (by filling with boiling water) jar.
Eat with cheese, cold meat, pie, sausages, bacon, paté, anything and everything.