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I grew runner beans for the first time this year and boy, have they delivered! I bought plants rather than seeds and they have proved to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in the garden. Our freezer is packed with frozen beans and the last of them are still growing as I cut back around them in preparation for winter.


Aside from finding the time to pick all the beans, one of the issues was, when to pick the beans?  When they’re small and less stringy, or big and bursting with fully grown beans?  As I’ve only been picking every few days or so, I’ve inevitably ended up with a mix, but it’s definitely true that it’s best to avoid either end of the scale!

But which size is best?

But which size is best?

Looking for a way to use up some of this bounty, rather than another day of boiled runner beans, I came up with this simple recipe, which made a perfect side dish to a nut roast, or a light lunch served with rice.  I made a double batch to freeze some, as here, so halve the quantity if you’re not so flush with beans!

We’ve also done well with tomatoes this year, as the weather was so great, so I was able to make this with our own plum tomatoes.  Tins of tomatoes would work just as well.

Mediterranean Runner Beans

1lb runner beans
1/2lb plum tomatoes, skinned, or 2 tins
2 tsp sundried tomato puree
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 onions, chopped
Large handful of basil, chopped, or 2 tsp dried basil
2 tbslp olive oil

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil over a medium heat for around 5 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook gently for around 20 minutes.  (You can speed up cooking time, but the flavour won’t be as dense).  Add small amounts of water if the mixture looks like it might dry out.


Steamy Mediterranean runner beans!

The Ham House from Kingston walk features in the National Trusts collection of great walks

The Great British Walk is the initiative of the National Trust to get people out and about this autumn.  Using their click-able map, you can choose a download from 1,285 walking trails.  The walks on the National Trust website are in pdf format and have a clear, easy to follow layout.  The ‘Ham House from Kingston Walk’ for example is 8 miles long and takes in a lovely, wooded stretch of the River Thames, 17th Century Ham House and the open space of Richmond Park.  This is one of my favourite parts of London and proved to be a great day out.  The print outs also include information about the sights along the way.  Of course the walks tell you about facilities available at National Trust properties (in this case Ham House), but this walk takes you very close to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park with a cafe and accompanying facilities available without an entry ticket!  Still these walks all look like a great opportunity to get out in the autumn sunshine (hopefully!) and take in heritage at the same time.

National Trust Great British Walk

Oh, and if you join the National Trust at the moment, there’s a deal for 3 months for free!

Brrr!  It suddenly got cold and I’m running round the house turning the heating on and getting extra jumpers!  It had to happen of course, after our strangely warm autumn so far, but I still feel unprepared.

So what’s the only rational response to this turn of events?  Well, steaming bowls of hot chocolate obviously.  But if you’re looking for a healthier option then the steaming bowls have to be filled with soup, and nothing really beats a thick warming soup for a winter feel good factor.

This soup was made on the spur of the moment with store cupboard ingredients, including frozen butternut squash, which has become one of my favourite standbys.  Of course fresh squash would be even better, but having healthy ingredients in the freezer means quick dishes like this can be made without much thought or planning.

Squash and Lentil Soup

1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black mustard seed
5 or 6 chunks frozen butternut squash
1 cup red lentils
1 pint water
1 tsp herbamare salt (or use sea salt)
1 heaped tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground black pepper

Heat the onion in a large saucepan and cook the onion, carrot, garlic and spices (except the garam masala) for several minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables in the spices.  Add the squash and lentils and stir briefly, then add the water and salt.

Bring the water to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes.  Add the garam masala and black pepper, taste the soup and add more salt if necessary.

Use a blender to blend the soup until smooth.  If you don’t have a blender, then the soup is fine as it is!

Well, summer’s finally arrived.  No really.  Yesterday was the hottest September day on record and the heatwave is set to continue over the weekend.  Not so much the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, which John Keats apparently wrote on 19th September (in his poem ‘To Autumn’), but a time to bring out the barbies and bikinis.

It’s been a funny old year for weather, which is affecting various crops in different ways.  We had a terrible year for tomatoes as the damp, warm weather meant the plants got very mouldy.  But apples are apparently early and yielding well.  And while it may seem natural to hit the beach in all this glorious sunshine, it is actually autumn and there’s nothing better to do on a nice autumn day then spend a quiet hour picking blackberries.  Blackberries are a true superfood as they’re very high in antioxidants, vitamins C, E and K as well as manganese.  And they’re free!  Folklore dictates that you shouldn’t pick blackberries after Old Michaelmas Day, 11th October, as the devil has been doing unpleasant things to them!  The date at least probably makes sense, as by then the fruit may have been affected by mould.  So get picking over the next few days.

Another wonderful thing to do in the autumn is to make chutney.  Storing up some of summer’s sunshine to be brought out in the depths of winter is very satisfying, and bubbly cheese on toast topped with chutney is a great comfort food!  I may leave further chutney making ’til the hot weather’s over, as it’s also a lovely activity for colder days!  But I now have a store of blackberry and apple chutney tucked away in a dark cupboard ready to be brought out when winter really does kick in!

Blackberry and Apple Chutney

1lb / 400g Blackberries
3/4lb / 300g Bramley apples
½lb / 200g Onions
1 level tsp salt
¾ pint / 0.5 litres Malt vinegar
2 level tsp freshly grated ginger
½ level tsp ground cloves
10oz / 250g Demarara sugar

Thoroughly wash the blackberries and put them in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Prepare the apples and onions by chopping them finely or mincing them in a food processor.  Put them into the pan with all the other ingredients except the sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes to allow the fruit to soften, then add the sugar.

Leaving the pan uncovered, simmer the chutney until it thickens.  This should take 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Meanwhile heat some clean jars in an oven set at 100˚C for at least 10 minutes to sterilise them.

Pour the chutney into the jars and seal straight away.  The chutney is best left for at least 2 weeks before eating, to allow the flavours to fully develop.

*My hollyfoods range of chutneys and jams are for sale in Par Ici in Twickenham in west London.

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