Autumn larder – comfort food

 In Havering

Autumn is a season filled with romance and nostalgia. There’s nothing quite like a walk through a city park painted in oranges, reds, and auburns, or along a country path dripping with brambles where a pint of real ale and a roaring fire awaits. Autumn wraps you up in a blanket and keeps you warm as she signals the end of summer before the long dark nights of the interminable winter months.

However every bit as much as this idealized notion of my most favourite season, I can’t help but enjoy a lazy Sunday, staring through my tenement windows at never-ending rain, surrounded by good company in the kitchen, warmed by the heat of the oven. The aromas of roasting meats, braising vegetables, filling the room as spice, whisky, and conversation gently intertwine in the heady cocktail of an all too familiar Scots autumnal tale. This is a country famed for the age-old custom of unquestioning hospitality, of sharing one’s harvest, whether great or small, and as the days shorten, that hospitality takes on a life of its own. These are the memories that stir my love of autumn above all other seasons, the ones which truly introduced me to the idea that cooking is love made visible.

Largely when I seek such comfort the dishes I cook will be meat based. Either slow cooked at weekends, or a quick dinner in the working week. My friend Ruth Harris farms rare breed pigs, goats, and sheep out by Strathaven, and the wonderful life she gives these animals yields an astonishing depth of flavour in their meat. Therefore I find myself eating a lot more pork these days, a meat I’ve often shunned for seemingly more flavoursome options. Pig cheeks with apples and cider is as delightful as it is inexpensive, the long slow cooking rendering the fruit to an unctuous glaze as the fat melts to sugar, and the meat falls apart so easily. Meanwhile pork chops with honey, soy, chilli, and lemon is a balance of sweet, sour, salt, and heat, for a simple worknight meal.

Venison is my favourite meat and it lends itself to big and bold flavours, being able to withstand the earthiness of dark spices such as black cardamom and star anise. The Port just adds and extra layer of richness but the gamey flavour is accentuated rather than overwhelmed.

I’m conscious that eating meat should not be an everyday occurrence however, and at these times risotto is my go to dish. Cooking it at least once a week has become almost a therapeutic ritual, the simplicity of continuous stirring to coat each grain with flavour, while yielding the creamy starch within, has become a family activity. In autumn it has to be mushroom, with earthy porcini providing the backbone for the more nutty chestnut or portobellini, alongside rosemary and garlic. This is a dish which can be light with white wine, or rich with Oloroso sherry, it just depends on the mood.

As a throwback to those childhood days when my joy in flavour, and company was cultivated I will often cook cabbage in oatmeal. The rich iron flavour of cabbage matching perfectly with the ubiquitous Scottish cereal, sweet, salty pancetta adds yet another dimension. Autumn is all about warming flavours of comfort in good company.

First article in Scottish Daily Mail Autumn Larder series

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