I’ve banged on enough about shopping locally and eating local produce. We are now at the perfect time of year to change your ways and do just that. This is the season I love the most – when the things I like to eat are ready to eat and the weather puts you in the mood. This is Keats’s “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”.
I love to just browse round the shops and the market in Ashbourne and see what is available. Right now the butchers have local game in abundance. The pheasants, pigeons and partridges are in Dales or Hulme’s and there is some excellent pork around which will complement some of the fruit available. We have some estates which regularly shoot and the farmland is rich with game birds. The butchers will prepare them for you so that you don’t need to do more than you want. The other nice thing about game is that generally it doesn’t take long to cook. As if to emphasise the point Pete Dale is holding a couple of game evenings at The Dining Room so that you can sample how the professionals do it.
My “go to” cook book for seasonal cooking is the wonderful Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. For October he has recipes such as pork ribs with honey and anise, English Apple cake, pot-roast pigeon, ham and butter beans. It’s that lovely combination of earthiness and homeliness that Autumn brings. It’s also the season that you can go out and forage the hedgerows for blackberries, sloes and elderberries.
You can begin preparing the preserves for Christmas. Fresh Choice and Natural Choice have the ingredients you need to make pickled onions. My favourite is a Delia Smith recipe for pickled pears to go with Boxing Day ham.
The root vegetables come into their own for delicious stews and soups. As bonfire night approaches the pumpkins and squashes make some fantastic silky and beautifully coloured soups which are actually pretty healthy too. I love making a big roasting pan of roasted vegetables – parsnip, celeriac, carrots and onion to go with the Sunday roast. Leeks, carrots and onion go beautifully with lentils to have with delicate game, fish or seafood at this time of year.
This year has been a bumper apple crop apparently. Make a point of only buying English apples to support our growers. My own favourites are russets and Coxes but there are plenty of varieties out there at either Fresh Choice or the Saturday market. Imported figs are magnificent as well at this time of year either fresh or baked with ham and some local blue cheese.
Fresh Choice is a very good place to visit for some local seasonal treats. You never know what is going to be in the trays by the door but there are always good mushrooms and herbs. Occasionally there will be English figs, cobnuts, artichokes, and damsons. You can wait and see and build a meal from what you find.
Of course, sometimes you don’t want to cook and Ashbourne has a great choice of cafes and pubs for all tastes. The cafes stretch along all the streets from the cafe by the Methodist Church to Chimes and from Ashbourne Coffee Stop to Bramhalls. Highlights are the doorstep toast at the Gingerbread cafe, sausage sandwiches or poached eggs at Bennett’s, and cinnamon toast at The Gallery. There are new ones opening up every day and you can even do some craft while you snack at Sticky Fingers.
The pubs range from the wine bar/bistros at The Bridge and The Coach and Horses, to the sports-watching locals at the Wheel and the White Hart. For a more family environment and food in the daytime the Stepping Stones is a good bet. For a friendly and cosy pub with fabulous award-winning beer the Smith’s Tavern is the best bet (you can play backgammon there on a Wednesday evening). The Horns is a nice cosy little pub with an open fire. If entertainment is your thing the George and Dragon regularly has bands. The younger population tend to aim for the Vaults and downstairs at The Bridge.
That leaves our restaurants for a relaxed evening with friends – the lively Bengal or the slightly more up-market Red Chilli. There’s the Dragon’s Nest for Chinese food or the excellent Basement for a spicy Thai. For something a little special we have the Lamplight, Carletto or the Dining Room.
Whatever you eat and drink October is a great month to do so in Ashbourne.