Aug 26 2021

Tumbling into Autumn

Autumn creeps in

Is autumn surreptitiously creeping in already? Today Millie and I climbed the hill to the top fields under a watery sun, struggling to make its self seen in a drizzly grey sky. Then suddenly a brief burst of warm sunshine, hood down, waterproof coat off, hurrah. A cohort of geese flashed across the sky like the Red Arrows! Dartmoor appeared briefly in the distance, the river below.

But it didn’t last of course. A ferocious wind whirled up from the valley, trees bent double, coat on again. Donkeys stayed in their barn munching hay. Chickens sheltered under trees. Only the sheep continued to graze peacefully, raindrops bouncing off lanolin. As we descended Millie danced in muddy puddles and launched herself into the stream, paws akimbo: Labradors love water. We reached home soaking wet once more!

It’s August, of course!

The Boat Float

And Devon is full to the brim with visitors! Many more this year than usual as covid restricts traveling to hotter climes. So hundreds have come West instead, flocking to the local towns seeking fun and relaxation. Alas the weather lets them down. Fully booked cafes and restaurants struggle with acute staff shortages, traffic jams abound and beaches are brimming with hopeful chilly surfers: all so disappointing.

The lanes narrow!

But something else is different this year. Although we are only half way through the big holiday month there is definitely a feel of autumn in the air. The trees have that tired dark green look they take on just before the leaves begin to turn. The lanes are already narrowing more than usual as hedgerows, so abundant, crowd across the way, arching overhead. Huge fronds of bracken, tall as trees, wave in the wind. Buzzards are already whirling overhead, filling the air with their autumn cries. Wild damsons cover the ground. The fruit cage is empty and the vegetable garden a soggy disaster! The whole garden is running amok!

Every year I so enjoy my little harvest, gathering fruit and vegetables, some for now and some to store for winter treats.  But alas, this year no abundant crops to stash away in the deep freeze, barely enough for now. Draught and deluge, scorching sun followed by biting cold winds have all taken their toll over the summer months. Only the tomatoes and green peppers, safe in the greenhouse, have come up trumps!

So I find myself moving towards autumn dishes, thinking of future meals, turning, as I always do, to cooking for comfort! Yesterday it was those wonderful “Old English” sausages from the Dartmouth Butcher, Boulangère potatoes and spiced lentils with a handful of Cavalo Nero from the sparse veg garden.

“Old English”

What shall we have today? Will it be Beouf Stroganoff or a quick ratatouille pasta, I wonder.

For the Stroganoff I will gently cook shallots and garlic in butter and a little oil till soft before adding a big handful of sliced mushrooms. A quick sauté then I remove them from the pan. I add a little more oil and let the pan get really hot; in goes the finely sliced steak. A quick turn around then off the heat and back go the mushrooms. I quickly stir it all together before adding salt and pepper and a good dollop of crème fraiche and chopped parsley. All cooked in minutes!

I do love making ratatouille from my own vegetables, though no aubergine this year, but fortunately I found a beautiful specimen in our village shop!

Ratatouille

I have learnt, at last, that the secret with ratatouille is to start by cooking the peppers, aubergine and courgette until just al dente. Then I take them from the pan while I soften first the onion, garlic and then add the chopped tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have melted a little, I return the peppers etc to the pan and cook gently for a few minutes. Doing it this way round prevents the vegetables all going to a mush!! All I need to add is a little salt and pepper and a big handful of chopped basil; delicious!

John Dory

Living near the sea we are so fortunate to have wonderful fish delivered literally to our doorstep. John comes by each Monday at lunchtime in his van packed full of the weekend catch.  Such a wonderful choice; it may be John Dory or scallops or lemon sole, it’s always delicious.  Every Friday I queue to buy more fish from Mark’s stall in Dartmouth Market where there is an even bigger array of the previous nights’ catch!

Tuna with Salad Nicoise

Sometimes I find enough in the fridge to make a quiche of sorts; rarely the classic Quiche Lorraine but delicious none the less! Despite the travel restrictions of the last eighteen months, I still have some frozen pastry left in the deep freeze, bought from a French supermarché in Brittany! By chance it fits my metal flan ring perfectly! When I run out, I will resort to ready made pastry from my local supermarket!

Quiche

The filling is random: bacon or ham, maybe, with mushrooms and shallot. Or perhaps I will use shrimps, prawns or some left-over cooked fish and a big handful of quickly cooked, really well drained spinach. It depends what I have in the fridge. The part that doesn’t change is the custard. I whisk two eggs into a mixture of milk and cream together with salt and pepper and some grated cheese. I pour this into the pastry case over the filling. I sprinkle a bit more cheese over the top then put it in a hot oven until the custard is golden and set and the pastry lovely and crisp. We eat it with a green salad.

So as the days seem to get prematurely shorter my thoughts turn once more to gathering whatever I can find and taming the chaos which is my garden………… while others relax!

Bliss!

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