The ultimate A to Z of autumn, from apples and cobnuts to food festivals and zero waste

A and Z formed from apples and berries
It’s getting cooler – and darker – but there’s lots to celebrate about this season’s harvest Credit: Haarala Hamilton

This is the cook’s season. There’s an optimism in the air: the “rentrée” (as the French call the post-summer-holiday period), is done and dusted, the rhythm of school and work reestablished, the harvest is in and in farmhouse kitchens the Aga is back on.

Those clever fast summer salads don’t seem so appealing when dusk is falling before the Archers is over. Now I want to get back to the stove, lavishing a bit more time on dishes, filling the house with the smell of slow cooked braises and sweet fruit crumbles.

Not that it’s all about home pleasures: new restaurants are opening, and established ones are revamping their menus, while half-term week brings a round of food festivals. The new season’s cookery shows are landing, and a raft of fresh recipe books too like Jamie’s Veg and Diana Henry’s From the Oven to the Table.

Autumn is here: get stuck in.

A is for apples

There’s a bumper crop of British apples this year. Look out for new ones like kanzi, which press the sweet-sharp-crisp button, although more nuanced flavours may be found in historic varieties such as Egremont russet and Worcester pearmain.

Oct 21 is the official Apple Day but the weekend of Oct 19-20 is when you’ll find the events from longest apple peel competitions to apple identification at the Apple Festival at Brogdale National Fruit Collection in Kent, while there will be apples events at National Trust properties nationwide.

B is for Bonfire Night

Credit: IrisImages

Nothing beats a night around a bonfire with sausages in buns, mugs of soup and potatoes cooked in the embers – tin foil is optional, as baking them “naked” gives a gloriously smoky flavour. Use long BBQ tongs to nestle the spuds in and check them after half an hour, before eating with chopped chives and rather too much butter.

Follow with proper parkin: dark, sticky gingerbread. Delia has an excellent recipe or try Lottie Shaw’s authentically nubbly version, available from Ocado and Fodder in Harrogate.

C is for cobnuts

Sweet and milky early in the season, the cobnut, or British-grown hazelnut, is by now darker and more intensely flavoured. Buy them in the shell from the greengrocer, or by mail order from kentishcobnuts.com and serve them with cheese, or shell them and roast them for 45 minutes to an hour at 150C/130C fan/Gas 2. They will shrink as they cool so you may be left with a mere handful but, trust me, it’s worth it for the best nuts bar none.

D is for diversity

Credit: iStockphoto

Farmers are waking up to the fact that planting a wide mixture of varieties is good for the planet, as biodiversity strengthens the soil and resilience to disease. Wheat is a great example, and small companies like Gilchesters in Northumberland are working on reviving local landraces, traditional populations of cross-bred varieties.

Look out for Gilchesters’ flours, made with heritage wheat varieties, as well as Andrew Whitley’s “Scotland the Bread” range, which uses 19th-century Scottish-grown varieties like Rouge D’Ecosse.

E is for eating in halls

Think food courts made in heaven, without the grim corporate shopping centre vibe. Hipsters are flocking to new venues like Market Hall, Kerb and Arcade Theatre in London, Cutlery Works in Sheffield, and Market House in Altrincham. Packed with one-offs and mini versions of cool independent restaurants, cafés and bars, some even offer the opportunity to order and pay from your table via an app, so less queuing, more eating.

F is for food festivals

Spend an autumn weekend pottering around a food and drink festival. Oct 12-13 sees the Great Peak District Fair and Buxton Beer Festival, a proper family knees-up, while the Dartmouth Festival (Oct 18-21) is the spot for fantastic seafood.

North of the border, the Glasgow Whisky Festival in Hampden Park on Nov 9 is already sold out for the afternoon session but there are tickets available for the evening (£40): Rachel McCormack, the whisky expert, describes it as “good value and a great chance to try a wide range of whiskies”.

G is for game

On Oct 1, the game season gets into its stride as pheasant joins grouse, partridge, wild duck and most venison. Pheasant will be tender enough to roast simply for the first month or so – 20 minutes at 220C/
200C fan/Gas 7, followed by 40 minutes at 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

You don’t need to wield a shotgun to enjoy wild game either: gametoeat.co.uk lists high street game butchers, or head for mail order suppliers like wildmeat.co.uk, which sources an impressive range mostly from Suffolk shoots.

H is for hedgerow hunting

There are still good pickings on weekend walks in October. Crab apples of all shapes and sizes make lovely jelly, especially mixed with the later, more pippy blackberries. Sloes aren’t just for gin, they make a great cordial too: simmer 500g with 1 litre of water, 1 tbsp crushed juniper berries, 6 crushed peppercorns, 500g sugar and the juice of a lemon, until the sloes are tender and collapsing. Strain and bottle, and store in the fridge. Drink diluted with sparkling or still water.

I is for ice cream

Not just for summer, nothing sets off a hot pudding like a scoop of melting ice cream. There’s a boom in artisanal makers to choose from, with 17 of the “3 star” awards at the Great Taste Awards being scooped by ice cream producers. The Supreme Champion gong went to Bristol’s Swoon for its hazelnut-flavour nocciola gelato – other winners ranged from the Orkney Creamery to Hadley’s Dairy near Colchester.

J is for jam

Time to get steamy in the kitchen and turn the last of the summer fruit into fabulous toast toppers and tart fillers. The new bottling bible is Pam “The Jam” Corbin’s Book of Preserves (Bloomsbury, £20), which is packed tighter than a pot of peach conserve with recipes that use surprisingly little sugar. Start with her “Busy Person’s Berries and Cherries Jam” that transforms a mundane bag of frozen summer fruits into a jarful that would make the WI proud.

K is for kohlrabi

Credit:  bergamont

A sputnik of a vegetable, kohlrabi makes a brilliant autumnal salad.

Mix three leaves of very finely sliced kale (tough stems removed) with 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp yogurt and a little salt, massaging well with your hands. Cut a 
peeled kohlrabi and an apple into matchsticks (on a mandoline if you have one), and mix through. Scatter with nigella seeds and pack into a lunch box.

L is for leaves

Snap up bunches of root veg complete with leaves and stems and get two dishes for the price of one. Carrot tops can be chopped and added to leek-and-potato soups – liquidise well, then sieve the soup to get rid of any tough bits.

For turnips and beets, chop the stalks and fry with olive oil and garlic for 10 minutes, then add the chopped leaves, a dusting of cinnamon, salt, pepper and two to three chopped prunes and cook for 10 minutes more. Leaf, the new book by Catherine Phipps (Hardie Grant, £25) has more inspiration for all things foliate, from curing vine leaves to making herb oils

M is for medlars

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Medlars are the forgotten British fruit, worth reviving now we’re all looking to cut down on sugar. Find the medlar trees in old established gardens and hedgerows (or ask around on community websites like nextdoor.com). The fruit look like huge, brown rose hips, and need storing until they are soft or “bletted”.

Rub the raw fruit through a sieve and add the puree to cakes and puds to add moistness and a mild sweetness, like a less sugary version of dates.

N is for non-alcoholic

More than 34,000 people are already signed up to this year’s “Go Sober for October” campaign in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Thankfully, there’s a new wave of no and low-alcohol drinks that are more nightclub than nursery, first “spirits” like Seedlip and Ceder’s, and now aperitifs.

Try AEcorn Dry, Bitter or Aromatic (£19.99 for 500ml from Waitrose & Partners) or Everleaf (£18 for 500ml from Sainsbury’s) on the rocks 
or with a splash of sparkling water.

O is for old milkers

Holstein Friesian cows have traditionally gone into cheap pies or pet food at the end of their lives. Now, innovative British farmers are looking to the Spanish Basque system where the animals are fattened on pasture once they have finished milking, and used to produce prime cuts.

The meat from an older animal – beef cattle are almost all slaughtered before 30 months, while dairy are likely to be five years plus – is packed with flavour. Look out for it at Turner & George.

P is for pumpkins 
and squash

Credit: Haarala Hamilton

But me no butternuts: the range of squash available now includes blue grey crown prince, heart-shaped acorn and the striped cottage loaf that is turban.

No need to peel them before roasting, just cut into wedges, rub with oil, salt and thyme and cook for 30 minutes at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Toast the seeds on a separate tray for the last 10 to 15 minutes, and scatter over the squash, along with a trickle of pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar.

Q is for quince

Look out for British quince, which may be more battered than pristine imports but often have a finer fragrance. Scrub off any fluff (there’s no need to peel as the skin softens), and poach until tender in a syrup made by heating 100g sugar with 500ml water and a vanilla pod. Or add chunks to stews and pot roasts: they take on a pleasingly meaty texture.

R is for rosehips

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Famously high in vitamin C – remember rosehip syrup? – the best hips for cooking are the big fat orange ones from the prickly Rosa rugosa, which is often found on waste land and by roads.

Wearing gloves, top, tail and halve them, then scoop out the pips and hairs (a skin irritant) inside. Dry them and infuse in boiling water to make a fragrant tea, or cook 100g with 600g chopped  apples for an autumn compote. 


S is for slow cookers

Dust down your crockpot – with their even heat and low energy usage, slow cookers tick every box in the modern green kitchen, plus they are ideal for autumn’s slow braises. There are good value models that can be bought for as little as £13 
(tesco.com) or splash out on a multi-cooker that can pressure cook and bake as well, like Instantpot (£89.99), or even the Ninja Foodi (£179.99 at argos.co.uk), which has air fryer capability too.

T is for TV

Darker evenings are a good excuse to curl up on the sofa and watch Rick Stein’s new BBC series, Secret France (due to air on Oct 31), exploring some of his favourite spots across the Channel – bang on trend, given the resurgence of interest in French cooking – including hidden gems in Jura, Auvergne and Périgord.

A bit too recherché? Closer to home, Channel 4 brings us Snackmasters, where Michelin-star chefs recreate favourite snacks, starting with the KitKat.

U is for umami

Autumn is when we start to crave intense savouriness, aka umami. The easiest way to add it to your food is via soy sauce and umami pastes. Alternatively, buy dried kombu from Asian shops and pop strips into casseroles, or opt for seaweed flakes like Mara Seaweed (£5.50 for 30g; morrisons.com).

V is for vinegar

Don’t be sour, vinegar just got interesting thanks to innovative companies such as Vinegar Shed and Cult Vinegar, which are selling small-batch, handmade and unpasteurised vinegars made from oloroso sherry, walnut and saffron, as well as the kit to make your own. Use to add piquancy to casseroles or add a few drops to a glass of water for a refresher.

W is for 
water bottles

Credit: Jo Morley

The must-have carry-it-everywhere bit of kit for autumn. Filling up is now stress-free thanks to the Refill initiative – look for the labels on pub, café and shop doors. Major supermarkets like Morrisons and Tesco are on board too, with free refills in their cafés, while train stations, airports and garages now often have water points. Bad news for designer water, good news for the planet.

X is for (e)xcess

One of my most fun autumn days was apple picking for Feedback, which organises volunteers to harvest fruit and veg from farms. It’s often produce that has been rejected by the supermarkets, and which is then donated to food banks and charities –volunteers get to take some, too. At home, you can tackle oversupply – including half-empty packets – by posting it on a sharing website like olioex.com or toogoodtogo.co.uk.

Y is for yogurt

There’s a yogurt for everyone, from tangy, drinking-style kefir, to creamy Icelandic skyr and dense Greek yogurt, through goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milk.

My current favourite is Viili, a Finnish yogurt that’s thick and gloopy. It forms strings – in a good way, like mozzarella on a pizza – as you spoon it out, but with an ultra-mild, milky flavour that makes it brilliant for eating with unsweetened poached fruit. It’s not available in supermarkets but it is easy to make – you can buy a starter from freshlyfermented.co.uk.

Z is for zero waste

Locavore in Glasgow Credit: Michael McGurk

Begone, packaging! A new generation of scoop shops is hitting the high streets, offering nuts, pulses and all sorts of dry goods packaging free, as well as cleaning gear and skincare. Don’t forget the wholefood shops that have been offering the same service for decades, too. To find a zero waste shop near you look to useless.london (for London shops) and thezerowaster.com.