13 September 2015

What's in season in September

When it comes to seasonal produce, September brings rich pickings. In the veg plot, late summer stalwarts such as tomatoes, courgettes and beans are still cropping, albeit a little more slowly than in the glut-ridden days of August. These are joined by the first of the autumn varieties, leeks, kale and other brassicas, and autumn fruits like apples and pears.  September is one of the best months for foraging, with an abundance of wild fruit and mushrooms there for the picking.

Damsons

From the veg plot



Many of the summer vegetables, such as courgettes and beans continue to crop well throughout September, although they tend to slow up as the days get shorter and nights cooler. If you are overwhelmed, think about making chutney or piccalilli. Outdoor grown tomatoes do well in early September, particularly if the weather is fine. If the weather turns cool and damp, as it almost invariably does by the end of September, tomatoes tend to stop ripening. You will then be left with plenty of green tomatoes. Some of those will ripen in a bowl in the kitchen, but lack the flavour that comes from being ripened in the sun. Green tomatoes make a great chutney, and cooking a huge batch of green tomato chutney, filling the house with vinegar vapours, is a late-Septmeber ritual in the Room for a Radish household. Green tomatoes can also be used in curries or stews, provided they are cooked long and slow. In Turkey, green tomatoes are pickled whole in vinegar, which are delicious.

Autumn veg such as curly kale, cabbages, leeks and turnips also start to crop in September. Fun though it is to have these, I go easy on the kale and leeks, which I hope will see me through the winter months when little else is available in the garden. Some crops such as turnips, beetroots and kohlrabi are not fully frost hardy, so should be picked before the first heavy frost. Others, such as swedes and parsnips need a frost to convert some sugars to starches, so leave these in the ground in September.

As I harvest main crops through the summer, I sow small rows of quick growing catch crops, mostly lettuces, radishes, turnips and quick-growing salad leaves. These can usually be picked in September and early October, giving several weeks of good salads. Endives and chicories planted earlier in the year can be picked in autumn once the nights get colder. In the past I have had success growing radicchio. This year I have tried growing puntarelle, which is popular around Rome, but very hard to buy in the UK.

Food for free in September


Elderberries

There is plenty of food for free available in September. Blackberries and elderberries are very easy to find. Blackberries have a delicious flavour, especially when cooked with apple. If you look a little harder, damsons and bullaces can be found. These are wild varieties of plum. Damsons in particular have a delicious flavour and intense colour, and make a great jam. Last week I tried making a damson sorbet, which was delicious.

Damson sorbet
September is also one of the best times of year for wild mushrooms. Cepes, and other members of the boletus family, and chantrelles are my favourite woodland mushrooms. In grassland, field mushrooms, parasol mushrooms and (in early September) giant puffballs all make good eating. Do remember that there are a number of deadly poisonous mushroom varieties out there, so unless you know your mushrooms it is wise not to collect them.

Wild mushrooms


Fruit (and nuts)



September is a month when many apple and pear varieties are harvested. Sadly it is often difficult to find English apples and pears for sale in the supermarkets in September. Some late varieties of plum should be available, along with autumn varieties of raspberry, and cultivated damsons and blackberries. Cobnuts are still in season in early September, and the first of the wet walnuts from Europe can often be bought as the month goes by.

Game


Roast partridge with puy lentils

As the hoohah surrounding the Glorious Twelfth subsides, the price of grouse goes down and it becomes slightly more affordable (although never cheap). I like to eat grouse once or twice each season. 1 September heralds the start of the partridge season. These tasty little birds are somewhat underrated. They can get dry if cooked too long, and the key is to roast them quickly in a very hot oven. The mallard season also starts in September.

Native oysters

Many people know the old adage about only eating shellfish when there is an 'r' in the month. This doesn't actually apply to all shellfish, and I suspect originated from a time before refrigeration when shellfish quickly spoilt in hot  weather. The adage is true of native oysters, which are in season between September and April.

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