Seasonal food for autumn

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The weather might be turning, but autumn is a bountiful time when it comes to food. Forget about those pricey exotic imports - there is lots of fabulous British produce on offer at this time of year, so why not eat seasonally and enjoy the best, freshest food on the menu?

Autumn is a fabulous time for fruit, with apples, pears and plums at their peak, along with damsons and quince, while it's also a good time to go foraging for blackberries, elderberries and sloes. Best of all, hardier fruits like apples and pears can be stored for quite some time in the right conditions, a cool but frost-free, dark area with good ventilation, such as a garage, shed or cellar. Apples will certainly last four weeks in these conditions, and some of the later season varieties such as Bramleys can even last for several months. Pears will also do well, though they can ripen and turn rapidly so if you are storing, it's worth checking them daily. Softer fruits such as plums and damsons will need to be eaten much more quickly, but you can freeze them or use those past their best to make jams and jellies that'll last for most of the winter.

Root vegetables rule the roost in autumn, and carrots, beetroot, parsnips, turnips, celeriac and, of course, spuds ripe for the taking. Not only are they a must for a great British Sunday roast, but they're great for adding flavour and volume to hearty autumn one pots. It's also a good time to eat your greens, with broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale at their best. And don't imagine that pumpkin is just for Halloween. This sweet, tasty veg, and its relative the squash, is extremely versatile, and can be used in everything from risotto to roasts and soups to stews. If you're still hankering for a salad, rocket and watercress are readily available.

British staples like beef, pork, chicken are pretty much available all year round these days, but for a real taste of the seasons, autumn is the time for game. Duck, goose, grouse, pheasant and guinea fowl are hitting their peak in October and November, and venison in November and December. Game is leaner than many more frequently cooked meats, and though it can be hard to keep game birds in particular moist, they lend themselves well to slow cooking. When buying game, make sure it has been hung so that it is tenderised, and team it with in-season veggies and rich, deep-flavoured sauces. Wild mushrooms like the field, puffball or chanterelle are also in season, but it is wise to buy these rather than foraging, as making a mistake can be very serious indeed.

As with meat, you may not think of fish and seafood as being seasonal, but buying in season means you'll get the very best of some old favourites, and be able to try some that you might not see year-round in the supermarket or fishmonger's. Whiting is very much in season at this time of year, and is similar to cod but typically more economical and sustainable than its more famous relative. Haddock, hake and halibut are all popular during autumn, as are monkfish and mackerel, although the latter is reaching the end of its best season towards the end of October. Shellfish are a great buy in autumn too though, with clams, mussels, oyster and scallops at their very best.

Do you eat seasonally? What are your favourite autumn recipes? Leave your comments below...
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