And so, winter is here. Or is it? Yes, autumn is hanging on to us like that last pound or dreaded cold, and most of us, I assume, just want to be able to wear our winter coats and wrap up warm without getting into a hot sweat, five minutes later. As a result, my winter mushroom feast supper club on Saturday (26th) has turned into a farewell to autumn soiree, and I am fully expecting it to start to snow as I say something about it being warm on the night, just as the rain and wind started at my autumn event when I mentioned it was still summer.
Yes, seasons can be confusing to cook by, but that, as I have discovered this year when I started the seasonal supper clubs, is most definitely part of the fun. New recipes are made, themes are tinkered with and perceptions changed. We have got to work with what we have, which I think, in Britain, is pretty good whatever the season.
So my seven-course feast is full of wintery suggestions, with a lot of the bounty of the autumn harvest looming. There’ll be chutneys, vodka made from just milk (by these guys, not me), the last of the British-grown veggies, pastry tarts, cheese, a bit of spice, some old-fashioned British grub and wild foods.
Of course, for wild mushrooms, autumn is a time of plenty, but we are getting to the end, when the kings and queens of the forest (porcini, especially) start disappearing fast. I am hoping to have some porcini (or ceps as a lot of people call them) on the menu, but a lot can happen in a couple of days and even though my supplier (and co-author of The Mushroom Cookbook) Mushroom Man’s Michael Hyams sources from pickers all over Europe and elsewhere, availability can just drop to non-existent. We may have some from Romania, or they could come in from South Africa – only time will tell if I have to do a swift ingredient switch at the last minute (see, there’s the fun…). But don’t let me give you the wrong picture: there are more than a few wild mushroom still growing now. We’ll have trompette, chanterelles, pied de moutons and maybe some hen of the wood (looks like feathers), as they will pretty much grow until the weather becomes very cold. And I’ll also be tapping into the hedgerows (if the nettles behave) after a very illuminating foraging tour from Robin Harford at Laverstoke farm (the people with the buffalos) a couple of months ago. His foraging guides are practically poetic – look up his gourmet foraging courses here.
Another couple of morsels from my recent travels are Dorset Blue Vinny, a cheese made adhering to 300-year-old traditions by Woodbridge Farm, and said Black Cow Vodka, from Devon, but happened upon in Hampshire. Similar to a Stilton in form and taste but with a sweeter, more subtle flavour, Blue Vinny is a bit of a chameleon of a cheese – it’s flavour and texture changes from the outside of the truckle in. I went to visit the farm, meet the cows (get licked by one too), see how the cheese as made and witness the care and attention that goes into happy cows making the best milk for cheese production, and most importantly, taste the cheese. Dorset Blue Vinny tastes really luxurious to me, which is ironic seeing as it was known as the poor man’s cheese, because it was ideal for using the leftover skimmed milk after making cream. Apparently, there used to be such a surplus that it was often given to farmhouse workers and if you left a small amount of money at the farm’s backdoor, the equivalent of Blue Vinny would be waiting for you in the morning. The cheese nearly got consigned to the history books not long ago, until Woodbridge Farm’s Michael Davies took the original recipe and process on. Now it’s so posh, you have to order it online from specialists like The Cheese Shed. We are going to have it with a tot of The Lyme Bay Winery’s Elderberry & Port Liqueur (also from Devon) and some of my homemade wild mushroom chutney and bread.
My next find was at Mudwalls Farm near Worcester. My friend George grows red kale (just when you thought kale couldn’t get any more exciting…), the best-quality purple sprouting broccoli and some white Chantenay carrots and you can pick them up in season from all Whole Foods Markets across London, as well as Gloucester services and Mid-county Co-op stores. I cannot wait to tweet pictures of the delivery when it comes (very early so I can get off to New Covent Garden Market to pick up my mushrooms and Westlands Wow flowers) tomorrow. And talking of flowers, I’m going to be using some violas on the desserts. Nearly as obsessed with edible flowers as with mushrooms, I can’t resist, and although they are grown in a glasshouse at Westlands, the violas growing in baskets outside our house are still going strong against all odds, so I am counting that as seasonal. And we are back to the joys of real seasonality.
There’s still time to buy tickets for the supper club if you fancy coming to Aldgate on Saturday. You can buy them up to midnight on Thursday 24th November.