Alex Rushmer welcomes the arrival of autumn and, with it, reassuring flavours that warm the soul
Whilst most seasonal changes take place gradually, it often feels as if a simple button has been pressed at this time of year. I suppose it may be something to do with the altering of the clocks, but there is always a single moment when you are likely to hear several people utter the words ‘doesn’t it feel like autumn, all of a sudden?’ in a single day. It’s the point at which scarves appear on the coatrack, jumpers migrate towards the front of the wardrobe and when nudging the thermostat begins to feel less like an indulgence and more of a necessity.
Food, too, plays a part in marking this rapid shift to frosted lawns and the advancing gloaming of cool evenings. There may be the occasional day when it feels necessary and right to make a salad or light the barbecue coals one final time, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule, and the meals we eat tend to take on a rib-sticking quality, perfect for warming the soul and providing a little extra insulation against the cool air.
I’m sure I say this every year but, as a chef, this is the most inspirational window in the calendar to cook. There is a robustness to the generous bounty of the season which, after several months of delicate flavours, is most welcome. Obviously, I adore cooking in the spring too, when the whispered promise of summer is in the air, but late September and early October present a different kind of assurance. I get more excited about the prospect of a slowly braised shoulder of lamb or a butternut squash, roasted whole then blitzed into a rich soup with cinnamon and onions than I ever could about a tomato salad or a fish cooked over a barbecue (as pleasant as those things are).
There is a robustness to the generous bounty of the season
It is also at this time of year that my thoughts and inspirations tend to return closer to home rather than darting around the globe in search of the unfamiliar and exotic. I was reminded of this recently whilst reading Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s The Book of St John which is as glorious a celebration of the food of this small island as I have come across, and although there are several recipes and musings that wouldn’t be out of place on a summer table, it is – in the main – a resolutely autumnal book.
I won’t patronise you by explaining how important Henderson’s contribution to the British food scene has been over the last 25 years – you already know this – but I will heartily encourage you to seek out this most recent work and cook from it often over the next few weeks, as I fully intend to do in an effort to ensure that the year draws to a close in a manner that is as positive as can possibly be. Given that thus far 2020 has presented us with little more than bare bones, it seems only sensible to suck the roasted marrow from their interior. Just make sure there are several slices of toast as well as a parsley and caper salad on the side.