Thursday, 26 September 2013

Autumn on Exmoor: enjoying the harvest

I’ve always loved autumn; to me as a child it meant bonfires, harvest festivals, picking blackberries, seeing the changing colours of the leaves, then jumping into piles of crunchy leaves… and thinking about it, nothing much has changed – that still just about sums it up.

Here on Exmoor, the local villages will soon be holding their harvest lunches and suppers, to celebrate the
gathering in of all kinds of crops – and just to have a get-together - always fun occasions and very well attended.

Autumn really does seem to be a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness this year. The past few days have started off mysteriously misty, with full sun by the afternoon. And fruitfulness-wise, everything’s been burgeoning. The glut has meant that we’ve been lucky enough to have received various produce from kind people. If you've read this blog before, or seen our webstie, you'll know that food is a subject very dear to our hearts.

First came a large Boston winter squash, from which we made soup (see ). Then some wonderful windfall apples. Nothing can compare with fresh English apples; it’s a shame so many in the shops are imported. Plums from a neighbour’s tree have made up into lovely jam; ornamental Japanese quinces from another neighbour have given us japonica jelly. Made in a similar way to apple jelly, it has a sweet-and-sour taste that goes well with meat and cheese – and apple pie. We’ve also served it with our vanilla ice cream as part of a fruity sundae. There are field mushrooms galore; delicious with a garlic sauce, or simply fried in a bit of butter (NB: never eat any wild mushrooms unless you have definitely identified them as being non-poisonous). And of course we’ve been picking blackberries; try blackberry and pear crumble as a change from the ubiquitous blackberry and apple.

The beautiful summer we’ve had has done wonders for the herbs in our garden. The lovage plant reached over 8 feet tall this year. Normally by this time it would not have many leaves left; but there is quite a bit of new growth at the foot so we’ll probably get a few more pans of carrot & lovage soup yet. I’ve already got some of the seeds drying (they can be used to season casseroles and so on, and have a particular affinity with beef). The mint has gone, well, berserk – and the rosemary has done better than I’ve ever seen it here.

Exmoor’s changing colours are always a delight; at this time of year the beech hedges are starting to fade to browny-gold; there are just a last few flowers of heather and gorse clinging on, and the hawthorn and rowan berries are in their full glory. Why not come and see for yourself?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Squash soup: an autumn recipe from Exmoor House

The other week some kind guests brought us a present: a large squash from their allotment. This turned out to be a Boston marrow winter squash, which resembles a pumpkin in texture and colour but is more lemon- or gourd-shaped. It can be used in all the same ways as a pumpkin (e.g. baked, included in casseroles, and to make pies, purées and soup). If you’ve stayed with us at Exmoor House, you’ll know that we love good food and enjoy trying different ingredients and flavour combinations.
In autumnal mood because it was a lovely autumn day, I just fancied some soup. On the web I found many recipes for squash soup, some of them quite fancy. I decided that mine would be simple and basic, so that the squash could speak for itself – it adds a lovely velvety texture and has a sweet, mellow taste. The soup could then be jazzed up if required. Here’s what I did… by the way, I deliberately haven’t mentioned any quantities here, because it will depend on how much squash you’re using. You might need a very large pan, though.
Cut the squash into chunks and peel it. Fry the chunks in olive oil with some chopped onions. Add vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you prefer) plus some fresh herbs (I tied mine in a piece of muslin to make a bouquet garni, bruising the herbs so that the flavour went into the soup) and garlic. I also added pepper, but not salt. Bring the pan to the boil and simmer until the squash and onions are soft. Liquidise the mixture (removing the bouquet garni first, which I nearly forgot to do!).
We ate the soup with a dusting of smoked paprika as a garnish. You could also use other spices such as cumin, or perhaps small pieces of crispy bacon, fried sage leaves, crème fraîche, cream, most cheeses… I’m sure there are many more possibilities, so do let me know if you discover one that is particularly fabulous.