The weather’s getting colder and I’m physically restraining myself as long as possible from switching the heating on. I’m desperately holding on to the last of the summer, but with autumn closing in there’s a bunch of stuff for our tummies to get excited about. Snuggle up warm and I’ll dive straight in.
Seasonal Autumn Produce
It’s a great time of year for local produce.
2 North Parade is a neighbourhood produce store that works with four local organic farms who pick and deliver straight to them for the freshest seasonal produce.
In the shop, their Autumn produce includes heritage tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, beetroots, chillis, carrots, leeks, spinach, cavolo nero, courgettes. Squashes and pumpkins: Crown Prince, Red Kuri, Blue Ballet, butternut, patty pans and spaghetti squash. Apples: Discovery, Worcester. Merton Pride pears, plums: Victoria, Swan, Marjorie’s Seedling.
At home, Peter Slade and Vicki Borondo, who run 2 North Parade, have been making big batches of slow-roasted tomato sauce with garlic, chilli, onions, olive oil and basil. They’ve also baked trays of roasted roots served with halloumi or thrown into soups. They recommend roasting squashes and serving with pangrattato – a mix of breadcrumbs, chilli, rosemary, parsley, garlic and orange zest.
If you love a nice shakshuka for breakfast, use some of that lovely roasted tomato sauce and crack in some eggs with a scattering of Old Winchester cheese and some good sourdough bread.
I chatted to Matthew Alden of Alden’s Butchers about the bounty of meat and fish coming into season. While the usual four of beef, pork, lamb and poultry are readily available, you might be surprised to hear it’s a great time for new season lamb.
Often referred to as ‘spring lamb’, new season lamb apparently moved seasons after the foot & mouth culling, and Matthew has found August and September have been better months for it.
If you’re cooking lamb at home, Matthew recommends a lamb shoulder on the rib (ask your butcher for forequarter or short fore). Put in an oven at 160C for 45 mins to an hour, with water added to the bottom of the tray, plus onions, carrots, garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. urn down to 110C for 5-6 hours, before finishing off at 140C for the last 10 minutes. Don’t forget to rest the meat after cooking, so all the juices get sucked back in, rest the shoulder covered for a good hour and a half before serving.
Grouse season has already begun, as have seasons for duck, goose and partridge, pheasant season begins on October 1st. So expect to see hearty game pies and terrines on restaurant menus.
If you prefer something fishy, the beauty is there’s a lot of variety and the colder the water, the better the fish thrive. Matthew says once you get past the fear of cooking fish, that’s when the fun begins. Osney Food Shed stock 100+ varieties every day so you really do have no excuse!
Gurnard is relatively competitively priced and can be prepared simply by canoe-filleting it and stuffing. To canoe the fish, place it on a chopping board belly down and spine up, then carefully remove the spine and innards, leaving the head left on. The fish can then be stuffed with fragrant rice, mash and spring onions, or your choice of filling, before roasting.
Turbot, halibut and monkfish are also available, full of flavour but more expensive. The turbot is particularly good steamed with lime and ginger according to Matthew.
Crustaceans will be in full force too, with Shetland oysters, clams, razor clams available and great for baking or steaming. Add a little parsley, lemon juice and onions to a pan with mussels from October for a tasty light meal.
For more exotic fish, trivelli and leopard shark from the Indian ocean, parrot fish from Seychelles and snappers from the Gulf of Mexico will also be in season.
The end of summer means one thing – rose sales plummeting! Apparently, it’s become less of a girl’s drink now though, and according to Vine Oxford’s Leigh Gooding, the term ‘brose’ has become a thing, with the drink becoming more accessible to men.
With the cooler weather comes a greater demand for richer, full-bodied reds like Malbec (my favourite) and Shiraz or richer whites like Chardonnay, Chenin or Viognier.
Portugal is a hot choice for wine at the moment, particularly the classic 70’s Vinho Verge or Alvainho – a beautiful white that is better value than it’s Spanish counterparts. Vine currently retails Alvarinho for £14 a bottle, with a £10 corkage charge if you’d like to drink in.
Leigh’s top picks available to buy at Vine for Autumn are (L-R in the picture above, corkage is £10 if you’d prefer to drink them on site):
2015 Mas des Capitelles Faugeres Vieilles Vignes, Languedoc-Roussillon, This organic Southern French red blend is available by the bottle for £12.95.
2016 Bodega Garzon Reserva Tannat, from Uruguay. The Tannat being a Southern French-like Malbec grape that was taken to Uruguay. Available by the bottle to take away for £15.95.
Scala Rosso Ciro’ Classico, Calabria, Italy. This blackberry red is available by the bottle to take away for £15.95.
If you haven’t been to Cowley Road’s uber cool wine shop already, then get yourself in for a few drinks and some nibbles. They’ve recently started working with renowned wholesalers Fields, Morris & Verdin, and also Berry Bros. & Rudd, which means they are able to secure some top quality bin ends.
I spotted this Hedgerow Gin from Cotswold Distillery and immediately pictured myself curled up on the sofa in a fluffy blanket with a couple of warming glasses of it to warm my little cockles.
The liqueur is their take on a sloe gin and is made from an assortment of the finest local fruit and berries macerated slowly in their award-winning Cotswolds Dry Gin for months, before being slow-pressed, blended and lightly sweetened. According to the distillers, we should try it with champagne or in a hot drink. OK then, if I must!
When it comes to coffee, Adrian Campbell-Howrad and his team at Society Café have been working with Southern and Central American beans over the spring, Central American over summer, and will have rested beans from Africa moving into autumn.
He prefers a flat white or double macchiato, so you can really taste the flavour of the coffee.
Log Fires & Cosy Dining
If you’re not ready to give up on summer yet, enjoy the feeling of being outside while avoiding those pesky goosebumps. The Folly has a lovely riverside dining room with plenty of windows overlooking their terrace, while The Mole Inn in Toot Baldon and The Fishes in North Hinksey both have elegant conservatory dining areas.
If like me though, you really feel the cold, Oxford has some gorgeous log fires to cosy up to while sipping on a drink or tucking into a nice hot roast dinner.
The White Hart in Wytham is not only one of our highest scored restaurants but also has a homely hearth to pull your chair up to. Go a little further afield to The Killingworth Castle in Wootton and you can even stay the night if you’re so snuggly you can’t bear to leave. Both serve excellent high-end gastro pub food in beautiful British country pub settings.
I’ve enjoyed some totally toasty fireside meals at The Port Mahon, The Anchor and The Punter too. Port Mahon may no longer have the famous steak platter, but it does do decent pub grub in an eclectic proper pub setting.
Tasty Autumn Events
The Gin to my Tonic Gin Festival is taking over Oxford Town Hall on 5th & 6th October. Tickets cost £10 per person and include a gin explorer guide, gin glass, samples, masterclasses, workshops, a dedicated fruit & flavoured Gin Bar, plus live entertainment. Pretty sure you’ll see me there, apologies in advance – I get huggy when I’m tipsy!
Thame Food Festival returns once again, offering two days of foodie fun on 29th & 30th September. Taking place on Thame Show Ground the event promises an artisan food market, street food, cookery demos, kid’s area, dog show, vintage tea tent pop up pig & gin garden and live music. Tickets cost £5 per day on the gate, or £8 for both days if booked in advance, children under 18 get in free.
Smoke and Thyme, the supper club of Chef Jack Greenall, will be open as an Autumn pop-up restaurant in East Oxford every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening from September to November. The seasonal, a la carte menu will change every month and is based on Chef Jack’s favourite dishes from the last three years of supper clubs and features a range of cuisines, especially Modern British, Cajun/Creole and Indian. Tickets cost from £26 per person.
Fresh Kitchen and Dining Ware
Who needs an excuse to buy cute new homewares? Not me! And I’m in love with this Woodland collection from Babylon Trading on the High Street.
I also can’t get enough of these rustic wooden chopping boards, jade tea light holders and ‘oh so huggable’ earthy mugs from Fairtrade at St. Michaels.
That’s autumn all wrapped up, I’m off to find a pumpkin latte!