The arrival of autumn – once described by John Keats as the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ – means it’s time for a proper feast in Scotland, writes Stephen Jardine.
These are trying times. With Brexit on a knife edge, MPs will today have their say on what happens next. Add in the clocks changing next weekend and dwindling temperatures and we should have the recipe for a miserable end to the year. So thank goodness for autumn.
Two hundred years ago, John Keats praised it as the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” in his poem ‘Ode To Autumn’. Two centuries on, The Metro newspaper has its ’15 Reasons Why We love Autumn’ – less romantic but the basic sentiment is the same.
Of all the seasons, autumn is the one that attracts the greatest affection. Partly it is down to the weather. Let’s be honest, summer in Scotland is always a disappointment. We hope for sunshine and buy barbeques and end up with washouts and not enough umbrellas.
In contrast, autumn never lets us down. It always delivers more sunshine than we expect and the colours seem to become more spectacular every year. This year is a riot of copper and burnished gold. If we do get a Brexit breakthough perhaps the key to it was the stroll Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar had through the gardens of a mansion on the Wirral. Surrounded by the natural glory of autumn, even Brexit could be solved.
Stews, roasts and toddies
But if one thing makes autumn so popular and desirable, it must be the food. I know when autumn is here not from a calendar or diary but from my appetite. My usual breakfast is something with muesli, yoghurt and fruit. But one morning in early October that suddenly never seems enough. Outwardly nothing has changed but inwardly something has altered and it’s porridge time. At that moment, autumn arrives.
The fading light and growing chill is the signal to wave goodbye to salads and strawberries and usher in heartier eating. Our bodies crave the heat and the calories to take us through the winter months ahead. We have permission to eat well.
To me autumn is about thick soups, stews and roasts, pumpkins and big flavours. It’s also about warming drinks – toddies, mulled wine and hot chocolate with a tot of rum.
Coincidentally, nature is at its bountiful best right now. The soft fruit may be disappearing for another year but apples and pears are in abundance. The game season is in full swing with venison, pheasant and partridge in plentiful supply. It is local and seasonal and cheaper than you might think. Everything comes together at this time of year. Last week a chef told me this is the only time she puts spring lamb on the menu. Any earlier and she says it lacks proper flavour. Now is the time she believes it cooks and eats best.
For someone with a sweet tooth like me, autumn is also an excuse for excess. What better time to eat apple crumble lathered with custard, rice pudding laced with nutmeg or sticky toffee pudding with a jug of cream served on the side.
All put together, autumn is a proper feast with produce grown over the summer taken to the table to nourish and sustain us through the dark days of winter and even Brexit. To borrow a saying, someone who is tired of eating and drinking in autumn must surely be tired of life.