Autumn makes me unspeakably happy. Cable knit cardigans, getting the fires going in the house, TIGHTS, boots, capes and ponchos, russet coloured leaves, sinking into an armchair with a good book and large cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, stopping with Primrose and Poppy to pick delicious bounty from the hedgerows, TIGHTS, my brown brogues, windfall apples, scarves, long walks in breezy sunshine where the light filters through the trees in the woodland just so, Jerry in warm woolly jumpers, jams and jellies and did I mention TIGHTS, dear Reader?! Lovely thick opaque tights. All those wonderful autumnal things and more, seem to make my heart sing. Even my hair behaves better in the autumn and suddenly rosy cheeks and
constantly messy windswept red hair blend into a landscape tinged with the colours of the liquor in the jam pan, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.
Autumn is almost the best time in the world to get into seasonal cookery. Who needs more of an excuse to pop a stew into the bottom of the oven to slow cook or pick blackberries on a long walk? Comfort food at its best. With that in mind, I popped off to watch a new friend in action. Everything about the lovely Cherie Denham from Flavour Passion screams foodie! The first time I met her she rendered me speechless with scones lighter than air topped with lashings of her Blackberry jelly. Winning me over with food is always a dead cert. for cementing a friendship. She’s pretty good ‘craic’, as they say in her Irish homeland, too!
Trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Cherie then became a teacher there, earning yet more culinary stripes with her own catering business and as a home economist consultant for none other than River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when River Cottage’s first cookbook hit the scene. Now running a whole host of seasonal cookery demonstrations from her stunning countryside cottage, Cherie shows her guests how to create an array of dishes from original recipes that can be scaled up or down depending on the occasion and most importantly, shares her culinary hacks. Easy canapés, crowd pleasing dishes, cosy autumn kitchen suppers, something a little more refined – this is cookery for those with busy lives who need tried and tested recipes that are a bit hit with everyone from the children to Saturday evening dinner party guests. Jerry was in seventh heaven with the Slow Braised Spicy Chipotle Beef Cherie sent me home with………the whole plateful was snaffled in seconds.
Butternut Squash Soup with Truffle oil and Parmesan
Crispy Oregano Chicken
Spinach, Ricotta and Thyme Tart
Divine Damson jam with Cherie’s Irish Wheaten Bread
Demonstrations seem to be THE thing when it comes to cooking these days and I can see the appeal. This is the countryside’s Tupperware party for the 21st century, dear Reader but OH SO MUCH more glamourous and useful! Rather like your best friend sharing all the secrets you’ve been dying for her to divulge for years. All cooking abilities are welcome. In fact, the guest list for Cherie’s demo was rather like a modern who’s who of Cluedo – was it the anaesthetist, the students off to university for their first year, the farmer’s wife, interior designer or godfather’s wife that nicked the last slice of Warm Lemony Treacle Tart….? I wonder, dear Reader. Can’t blame them, it was seriously scrummy and I shall certainly be returning for more culinary inspiration when Cherie demos Christmas in November!
Inspired by my amazing morning and immensely delicious dishes, my kitchen now looks more like a production line than farmhouse haven! Elderberries, crab apples, quinces, herbs from the garden for drying – we’ve got it all going on in Margot’s Kitchen at the moment, dear Reader! The cottage is groaning under the weight of all the apples that seem to arrive by the carrier bag full and are left on the doorstep by lovely villagers. With jams and jellies a go go, I’ve taken to trying a few new numbers with the apples too as I can’t bear to see them go to waste. Crab apple vodka, windfall apple butter, hedgerow compote, fruit leathers for the girls and my favourite so far, apple crisps. I haven’t even got round to picking the sloes yet but I must, before they are snapped up by the birds. First frost is just far too long away to leave a batch of sloe gin to chance!
If like me, your house is turning into an orchard quicker than you can say cider, then this will help turn a few of those appley beauties into something everyone can enjoy. Here, just for you my dear Reader, is my recipe for Apple Crisps.
1 or 2 apples, not cookers
sprinkling of cinnamon
Peel and core your apples, cutting out any maggoty bits if like me you’ve used a few windfalls. Using a mandolin (the culinary version rather than musical), finely slice the apple so that you have rings or half rings depending on how many maggoty bits you’ve had to cut out. You could do this with a knife but remember it does have to be paper thin slices.
Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place apple slices on the paper. You may have to line a couple of baking sheets depending on how many apples you have decided to use. Sprinkle over the cinnamon. NO SUGAR NEEDED.
Place in bottom of the Aga (in my case the ever faithful Everhot) or in a very low oven from anywhere from 2 hours or until you have achieved the level of crispness you would like. Best to do this when you need to do some slow cooking as the oven will need to be on low (no more than 120 degrees Centigrade) for a while. Keep checking the slices every now and again to make sure they are not burning. You can choose to leave them until they are really crisp or simple dried out and still a bit chewy. Lovely as an after school snack, crushed over yoghurt, stirred into vanilla ice cream – the choice is yours!
Happy autumn, dear Reader! I’m off to buy some more tights……