The clocks have gone back so the days are now shorter and it is time to slow down – at least in where cooking is concerned. November is the month to dig out the soup pots, slow cookers and casserole dishes, as food rapidly puts on weight right now with rich comforting stews, soups, pies and puddings much needed.
Plummeting temperatures are very important when it comes to winter veg as a hefty nip of frost on many root vegetables means it is time to start eating them. No gardener would ever dream of pulling up a parsnip, swede or sprout before the frost as the veggies react to it by producing sugars, which then turns them from bitter to sweet. So, though they are now available in the shops, it may be worth waiting for Jack to put in appearance before you buy.
One root making its first appearance of the year in November is the misnamed Jerusalem Artichoke; misnamed because it bears no relationship whatsoever with Jerusalem or with artichokes. The knobbly, little tubers look much like a ginger root but when cooked more resemble the potato but with a distinctive sweet, nutty flavour. Cook much as you would a potato, they make a luscious soup, and are good in a gratin. The Jerusalem artichoke is stacked with nutrients, so is good for you but beware, they have a powerful wind-producing effect…
So that’s the underground stuff taken care of, but there’s plenty above as well. Cabbages, kale, chard and perpetual spinach will ensure you can keep up with your greens in the winter months. If they seem a little on the boring side then there’s always Cavolo Nero, a posh, black cabbage from Tuscany, now widely grown in Britain.
November still has plenty of excitement in store for the foodie and it comes in the form of great fish and seafood: as the sea gets colder, lobster, mussels, scallops, monkfish, plaice and Pollack get fatter and tastier so are at their best right now. Wild and farmed rabbit, hare, guinea fowl and venison play a starring role for the meat-eaters' autumnal plate, and fruits come in the form of figs, satsuma’s and a long-overlooked fruit, the quince.
Quince was once the pride of the Victorian garden but the furry, golden-coloured fruits seemed far too fiddly for the modern kitchen until a few enterprising chefs got their hands on them and reacquainted the quince with game and fatty meats in the form of jellies, cheeses and chutneys and to the sweet trolley poached in luscious boozy syrups.
This month there is no avoiding the appearance from that butt of British food jokes, the Brussels Sprout. 40,000 tonnes may be bought in the UK each year but undoubtedly, 39999 will be boiled to death, (if the myth about British Food is to be believed). The humble sprout has only been in Britain for a 100 or so years, so how it came to be part of a traditional Christmas dinner is anyone’s guess? The Brussels Sprout is so underrated, especially as not only do they taste good they are stacked with vitamins. On a trip to Australia recently, I was served Brussels Sprouts with fish, not a way of serving them I had ever thought of, but the sprout had been deconstructed leaf by leaf, steamed for one minute, wafted through salty butter and served alongside the fish with a caper sauce – sublime. But, maybe life is just a little too short for deconstructing a sprout?