Saturday, 22 October 2011

Hello Autumn

I think autumn has finally arrived. It has been a funny old October, what with the heatwave at the beginning of it. Usually we enjoy a hot, sunny birthday in July for my youngest daughter and a damp, grey birthday for my eldest in October but this year the two were swapped. It confused us and it certainly confused the plants too.

Last week I wandered around to the allotment mainly to empty the compost bin, carrying 4 empty carrier bags just in case there was something to harvest. Much to my surprise, half an hour later each bag contained several different crops. There were still a few ripe tomatoes, amongst the depressing remains of blighted plants. There was one butternut squash, previously hidden but now revealed as the exhausted plant succumbed to mildrew, and some skinny yellow courgettes. There were 4 more cucumbers and half a bag of French beans. There were carrots and beetroot and thought I would just see how the parsnips were doing so I pulled two of those up. In the brassica patch the broccoli, cauliflower and Romanesco were still offering a few heads. A few more pears had fallen from the tree too.

I was pleased with this yield in the middle of October - a mini harvest festival of crops for the kitchen. Somehow these are more rewarding than the bags and bags of fresh veg picked in June, July and August. But what surprised me most was the bowlful of strawberries and raspberries I managed to bring home! That afternoon I treated my girls to a fruit salad more suited to July than October. And what a treat it was - a taste of summer in autumn.

They threatened frosts by the end of this week. It did indeed get colder, forcing us into our winter coats but there wasn't quite a frost. I shall go out tomorrow and see what delights I can harvest before the frosts really do arrive but I don't expect there to be much left and I certainly won't be pinning my hopes on another crop of strawberries! But that is no bad thing. I love what October's seasonal kitchen has to offer. It is all about warming, comfort food, tree fruit, root vegetables, spices, chutneys and things from storage. I still have apples, pears, cucumbers, courgettes, onions, shallots, garlic, butternut squash, pumpkins and even a few tomatoes in boxes in the shed. Last week I made a fantastic pumpkin & ginger cheesecake (yes, really!) and today I whipped up a wonderful batch of butternut squash & cinnamon muffins. With such wonderful autumn fayre on offer who would miss strawberries anyway?!

Pumpkin & Ginger Cheesecake

3 oz crushed digestive biscuits
3 oz crushed gingernut biscuits
2 oz melted butter

7 oz soft cheese
3 oz light muscovado sugar
1 egg
4 fl oz whipping cream
4 oz pumpkin puree
1/2 in root ginger
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 tsp ground ginger

To make the base: Put the biscuits in a bag and crush them with the end of a rolling pin until finely crushed or blitz them in a food processor. Melt the butter and mix it with the biscuit crumbs. Press the mix firmly into the bottom of a flan dish and chill for about 1 hour.

To make the filling: Peel and cube the pumpkin and steam for 10-20 minutes with the piece of root ginger until soft then blend in a food processor with the icing sugar until smooth. Preheat oven to 180 °C, gas mark 4. Cream together the cheese and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, cream, pumpkin puree and ground ginger and whisk until thick. Dollop the creamy filling onto the biscuit base and spread out evenly. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes then turn out the oven and leave it in the oven for another 10 minutes. After that open the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside to continue its slow cooling so that it doesn't crack. Serve chilled with cream.

Butternut Squash & Cinnamon Muffins

6 fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil
6 oz (175g) light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz (225g) fresh pumpkin
4 oz (110g) sultanas
1 orange, zest and juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 oz (225g) self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g tub of cream cheese
3 oz (85g) icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C (gas 4) and place paper cases in a muffin tin. Put the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a bowl and beat together. Grate in the pumpkin and orange zest then add the sultanas and the juice of half the orange. Sieve in the flour, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda and mix until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases then bake for 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. In the meantime, whisk together the cream cheese, icing sugar and the remaining orange juice until thick. Refrigerate until required. Dollop some of the cream cheese frosting onto each muffin just before serving.

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