Sybil Kapoor on the joys of autumn, a time for discovering new cookbooks, revelling in seasonal ingredients and, as the days shorten, plunging back into London’s nightlife
Words: Sybil Kapoor
Paris may be perfect in the spring but London is heaven in the autumn. Warm days, misty evenings and cold nights suit its inhabitants, who’ve returned full of energy from their summer holidays. Across the city every shop and market stall is bursting with autumn goodies, from the latest must-read books to glistening silvery fish and rosy apples. As the nights draw in, lights sparkle from every bar and restaurant. There are new menus to try and big autumn exhibitions, films and plays to see.
Positivity fills the air. Ideas are exchanged, new projects launched and social diaries quickly filled. Amid the flurry of work, autumn is the time when Londoners catch up with their friends and plan parties and outings. It is also when cookbooks are sold and people return to their kitchens.
There are drinks parties, after-theatre suppers and weekend lunches to consider. Lists are made on buses and tubes to maximise time efficiency, with evenings set aside to cook dishes in advance. Canapés, such as mini leek and blue cheese quiches or lemony veal and spinach balls, are cooked and stacked in the freezer. Blinis and samosas are also frozen, while olive oil brushed crostini and hazelnut or almond mini-meringues are baked and stored in air-tight boxes, ready to top on the day of the party.
Meanwhile, forgiving soups, stews, tagines and curries such as spicy coconut and pumpkin soup, and rich beef and onion stew flavoured with orange zest and thyme are chilled (or frozen) for late-night suppers or relaxed mid-week dinner parties. They improve with age and can be quickly reheated with minimal fuss.
Cooks, of course, are spoilt for choice by the sheer diversity of ingredients as autumn and winter foods overlap. There are bright-eyed mackerel, herring and dover sole, all fat from the summer, and marbled cuts of pasture-fed beef and free-range pork. The game season offers the chance to cook pheasant, partridge and wild duck once more, while the incredible array of fruit and vegetables will make any vegetarian happy.
There are myriad alliums, brassicas and wild mushrooms, as well as fragrant British apples, pears and quince, along with sloes and sweet-tasting Kentish cobnuts. Best of all, there are superb cheeses that come to maturity in early autumn such as fudgy textured Greenham goat’s milk cheese or gooey vacherin mont d’or—all of which offer the perfect excuse to test out new cookbooks and try different cuisines.
Land of Fish and Rice
Diana Henry fans will have her new book Cook Simple to dip into, while lovers of Chinese food should seek out Fuchsia Dunlop’s latest book, Land of Fish and Rice, which features recipes from the Jiangnan (the lower Yangtze region including Shanghai) in China.
Those pining for a rural life can dream of farms, fields and moors as they cook from Gather by Gill Meller. And those wishing to develop a new culinary style, might enjoy seeking out the brilliant Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo.
The cold nights hone the appetite and after six months of light, summery food, hearty dishes such as chicken and leek pie, piquant fish in tamarind sauce or stir-fried cabbage with pork and mushroom balls are irresistible.
Warming risottos and gratins
Fresh delight is to be found in every meal, from breakfast to supper. Cut porridge oats simmered in water and finished with brown sugar and cream replace the ubiquitous muesli. Toasted cheese sandwiches lure lunchtime workers away from their summer salads and warming risottos and gratins supersede the barbecue.
As autumn leaves drift down the streets, most Londoners start to yearn for dreamy weekend walks, coffee and cakes. Misty mornings and dusky late afternoons are made for anticipating the whoosh of a cafe’s espresso machine and savouring the fragrance of a cup of tea.
The scent of autumn air provokes a desire for an accompanying slice of walnut cake or a piece of moist spicy carrot cake. It brings with it the desire to live a better life, one which offers the time to make cheese scones and sourdough bread, or bake a gooey chocolate cake on a rainy afternoon.
A meandering walk
However, if you really want to appreciate the sheer pleasure of a fine autumn day in London, fill your pockets with apples and chocolate and set off on a meandering walk around the city. If you’re planning to head for the parks, add a favourite sandwich to your supplies.
Otherwise, plan a good place to stop for lunch; be it a cafe at Tate Modern, a dim-sum restaurant in Soho, or Borough Market’s Market Hall. Factor in great tasting stops, such as cake shops, market stalls and whisky shops. Linger over a gelato or pause for a sticky bun. It’s a wonderful way to think about life and dream of the future.