Believe it or not, there’s a reason we eat Brussels sprouts with our Christmas lunch, as October through ‘til March is when they are most ripe for their picking. Generally, selecting ingredients that grow best at particular times of the year is the best way to save money, acquire the tastiest crop, and be kind to the environment as well as your insides. Only restaurants that know what they’re doing will have chefs that cook with the correct seasonal ingredients.
Whether it’s in a restaurant kitchen or at home, there are chefs out there that rub their hands when contemplating what’s coming into season, because it changes the shape and appearance of their dishes as much as it does the taste. Graham Garrett, chef at the West House, says there are no two ways about it. ‘When they’re gone [out of season], they’re gone and you change dishes and you get inspired by what’s next to come in.’ According to Graham, It’s especially a good idea that he sources fresh, seasonal ingredients if he ‘doesn’t want the local farmers kicking the door in.’
Now that we’re in October, the very centre of autumnal cuisine, here is a selection of some ingredients to, like Graham, get excited about.
Bramley Apples – credit: grassrootsgroundswell
There might be 7,000 varieties around the world, but Britain only grows 12 of them. If you see an apple pie or an apple crumble on the menu and it’s not between September and February, then the restaurant you’re at isn’t doing it right.
When in season, the beetroot is one of the most nutritious vegetables available in Britain. Often seen in salads but sometimes even used in chocolate brownies, the beetroot is more versatile than one might think.
Some might still see butternut squash as an exotic vegetable, especially when it’s only around for 2-4 months of the year in Britain. While there are many types of squash, pumpkins and butternut are exclusively winter varieties.
In order to be fresh, chestnuts must be harvested between October and January, giving a small window to those who enjoy roasting them over an open fire. When cooked, their aroma alone is evocative of the autumn and winter months.
‘Beetroot Brownie’ – credit: Leith_al
The cranberry has for centuries been highly prized for its medicinal properties. Cranberry sauce also happens to complement turkey exceedingly well, which is probably why we insist it’s put on the table for Christmas dinner.
Now coming to the end of their late summer/early autumn tether, figs only have three months of the year in which they are best cultivated. When dried however, figs can be consumed all year round, and are just as nutritious.
As it’s available at this time and through the winter, it’s no surprise restaurants serve it as an alternative to turkey. Especially if they’re in a Dickensian novel and the plumpest birds have all but run out. When the meat wasn’t quite so expensive, there was a time when goose was more commonly seen on dinner tables.
As all guinea fowl originate from Africa, the birds will mature around October time in Britain. With flesh that’s dry to the mouth, guinea fowl can be compared, and often stand in as an alternate to, chicken or pheasant.
Just like apples, only a few varieties of pear are freshly available in Britain. Due to their demand all year round however, as much as 80% of pears consumed are imported. Pears are one of the few fruits that continue to ripen after they’ve been picked.
More commonly perceived as ornaments rather than edibles, pumpkins should be gathered while they can because they’re not round for long. Restaurants that properly and proudly take advantage of seasonal ingredients might put dishes such as pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup on their menus during the autumn months.
If all of these fine ingredients have whetted your appetite, why not check out our list of the best autumnal menus this season?