3 October 2015

What's in season in October

October usually starts with relatively mild (and this year sunny) weather, but often ends cold and positively autumnal. This change is reflected in the crops that are available. Early October sees the very last of the tender crops. By the end of the month there is an array of autumnal favourites available: leeks, swedes and cabbages to name but a few. It is a good month for fruit – with many varieties of apple and pear being harvested. October is also good for wild mushrooms, and a great time of year for game. It is the last month when one is likely to have a glut of some sort, and gives an final opportunity for preserving.


The period from October to Christmas is, in my books, the best time of year for game. 1st October heralds the start of the pheasant season. Pheasant is a tasty and reasonably priced game bird. One pheasant is enough to feed two people. When cooking pheasant bear in mind that the breasts can easily dry out, while the legs benefit from a long slow cook. For this reason, if cooked whole it is best braised, and I avoid roasting it. The other option is to separate the legs and breasts, confit the legs and fry the breasts separately. Or, as they do in Italy, make the legs into ravioli, which are eaten as a primo, followed by the breasts as a secondo. Woodcock is also in season from 1 October, although much harder to find than pheasant. Other gamebirds such as grouse, snipe, mallard and partridge continue to be in season.

Pheasant plucking

In the veg plot

Colder, longer nights will slow down many of the summer stalwarts such as courgettes, beans and tomatoes, but some should still be available in early October, particularly if the weather is mild and sunny. These crops, and other tender veg, will be killed off by the first frost. I grow my tomatoes outside, and unless the weather is particularly fine, pick those that are left in early October, as they tend not to ripen any further. (In a few bad years I have had to harvest them in September). I always have lots of unripe green tomatoes. Some of them will ripen if left in a bowl. Green tomatoes make a great chutney, and I always cook up a big batch of green tomato chutney at this time of year. This year I have also pickled some whole, as they do in Turkey. Green tomatoes are edible if cooked long and slow – and I make a great curry.

I often plant quick growing salad crops, like lettuces, radish and mustard leaves, as I harvest maincrops over the summer. Provided they have been sown by about mid-August most salads grow well in autumn conditions, and are less likely to bolt and run to seed than in high summer. Many salads are not fully hardy, so if the weather turns cold, they can be protected with a cloche. Chicories are also in season in October. This year I have tried growing puntarelle, a variety popular around Rome. In previous years I have had success growing radicchio, which tends to form hearts and develop its distinctive maroon colour as autumn progresses.

Crops such as kohlrabi, turnips, chard, carrots, celeriac and beetroot will withstand light frosts, and should be available throughout October. Carrots, beetroots, turnips and celeriac were traditionally harvested in October and stored in damp sand in a cool dark place until needed over winter. If you have a lot in your veg plot, and access to a shed or cool garage, this could be worth doing. If not harvested already, winter squashes should be picked in October. Winter squashes have thick skins, which preserve the tasty flesh inside. If stored in a cool dry place (not in the fridge) they should last for several months. Many winter stalwarts such as leeks, cabbages, kale, swedes and turnips will be ready to harvest by October. I try to go easy on these, and use up the less hardy veg first, as ideally I want the frost-hardy crops to last well into the winter. The flavour of some crops, particularly parsnips, and certain varieties of kale, is improved by frost (which has the effect of turning some of their starch into sugars), so resist the temptation to harvest these until after the first heavy frost. 

Tender herbs such as parsley, tarragon, sage and oregano die back in winter. Some of them, such as sage and oregano, dry well for use over winter. Tarragon can be used to infuse white wine vinegar, which makes a great base for béarnaise sauce.

Fruit and nuts

October is one of the busiest times of year for harvesting apples and pears. Unlike early varieties, many maincrop apples harvested in October will store for several months. Pears on the other hand deteriorate fairly quickly, so should be used relatively quickly. To be stored they need to be preserved in some way. We have had quite a few pears from the tree in our garden, so I have tried bottling some in mulled cider. They look great in large kilner jars, and should provide some simple and tasty desserts in the depths of winter. UK-grown quinces should also be available in October and November. These rather old-fashioned fruits are delicious if cooked long and slow, and make the most luxurious of crumbles. Although the soft fruit season is pretty much over, you might still find a few autumn raspberries around.

Sweet chestnuts
Sweet chestnuts are in season in October. These can often be found growing wild (though in the UK are usually quite small). Larger French and Italian chestnuts can be bought in the shops. I love a bowl of roasted chestnuts – there is something about the smell that makes me think of cosy autumnal afternoons. Chestnuts also partner very well with pheasant.


In early October there might still be some blackberries, damsons and bullaces to be found. Sloes, another of the wild plum varieties, are at their prime in October. They are traditionally used to make slow gin. They are quite small and hard, and it is difficult to find many other uses for them. Rosehips can often be found in abundance in October. These can be used to make a tasty jelly. This year I am infusing some in cider vinegar to use in dressings and sauces. (An idea I can across at a recent pop-up event I went to in Brighton by MAW and Tabl). Wild hops can sometimes be found in the hedges of Kent and Sussex at this time of year – useful if you fancy brewing your own beer.



October is usually a good month for wild mushrooms. Chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms and various species of boletus (the best of which is the cep/porcini) can be found in woodlands. Slightly more unusual, but worth looking out for, is the cauliflower fungus, which grows among pine trees. In grassland, field mushrooms, horse mushrooms and parasol mushrooms are the main species to look out for. If you come home with a large haul of boletus, they can be dried and used throughout the year. While chanterelles do not dry particularly well, they are very good pickled and stored under oil. As always, do remember that some species of mushroom are deadly poisonous, so only pick and eat mushrooms that you have identified as edible with 100% certainty.

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