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Autumn's Perfumery

Blog • October 2nd 2013

October has to be our most fragrant month, with nutty celeriac, creamy salsify redolent of oysters, honeyed quince and earthy mushrooms just some of the aromatic gems jostling for our attention.

As October heralds the start of the wild mushroom season, there's no better time to forage for fairy rings, chanterelles, ceps, powdery brittle grills, red cracked boletes and wood ears (yes, they really do look like ears!) too, but a knowledgeable teacher is essential to avoid accidentally picking one of the 14 deadly species that grow happily alongside the edibles. We've tried in vain to train our dog Sam to snuffle out truffles - so we can be assured of the most fragrant specimens - but we've had little success! Instead, we seek out these wild and wonderful veg at the county's farmers markets, which can offer some fascinating fungi at this time of year.

Soily soulmates to mushrooms include the aforementioned salsify, a root vegetable from the dandelion family - hence the long taproot - which looks like a parsnip and tastes faintly of shellfish. Pair it with celeriac, a veg that should not be judged by its knobbly exterior - with its crispy white flesh and subtle celery flavour that makes magical mash - and you have a match made in heaven. Try cooking as you would boulangere potatoes: layers of thin slices with onions and plenty of salt and pepper. I pour over a chicken stock once I've made my stack, but veggie stock would do just as well. Bake, covered at 180C for around an hour.

I find this fragrant rooty base is a lovely foil for autumn lamb too, which is often overlooked in favour of spring lamb and yet is much more flavoursome after a summer fattening up on luscious leaves. I like to pop my roast joint on top of the boulangere mix and bake at around 140C for four to five hours until the meat is sumptuously tender, or alternatively rub with a savoury butter, infused with cumin and coriander seed with lots of garlic. It is always good to look out for unusual breeds of lamb too, such as Boreray (indigenous to the Yorkshire Dales), Manx Loghtan, or North Ronaldsay, associated with Orkney, which has a distinctive flavour thanks to a diet that's rich in seaweed.

High-rise delights include pear-shaped and fantastically fragrant quinces, but don't be fooled by their seductive golden skins - unless they're cooked, they can be bitter and almost inedible! I'll blend cooked quinces with vanilla and sugar, bubbling for a good few hours until it turns jammy and then bake in the oven to set to make classic Spanish 'membrillo', but the fruits also take game birds to another level.

October 1st heralds the start of the pheasant season and this flavoursome meat offers a relatively cheap alternative to beef, pork, lamb or chicken. I simply cook mine for 30 to 40 minutes in a medium hot oven, basting with the cooking oil as I go, as the birds are very low in fat, and one bird should satisfy around two people. I also like to make a warming pheasant casserole for those cold winter nights, so why not try one of my favourite recipes - Spiced Winter Pheasant With Crispy Herb Stuffing Balls. Ready-to-cook portions also prevail (so there's no need for the tricky plucking) but if you do buy fresh, the plumage will be your guide - all young birds have soft and long wing feathers that are V-shaped. Wit h Yorkshire's rolling countryside abundant in top notch shooting ranges, there's also no reason why you can't bag your own brightly coloured Sunday lunch!

Read my luxurious and warming recipe for Spiced Winter Pheasant with Crispy Herb Stuffing Balls.