I write this amid a heatwave in my sunny London garden. It’s 31°C and I am holding an Autumnal Mushrooms Supper Club on Saturday (book here). I am now in the unusual situation where I’m hoping those dark nights and cool mornings come on quickly in the next couple of days, just so I can be on target and have the right autumnal ingredients.
Of course, that’s not only unrealistic, it’s a shame. A good chef, I am continuously told by the various chefs I have interviewed over the years and particularly just lately, works with the supplies around them and to their fingertips. So my supper club menu has taken a bit of creative thinking and I have had to get my head out of the basic autumnal food mantra we are so used to when the seasons change, and pull myself back to the here and now. The best restaurants I have been to are in the moment of food production – and cost- and taste-wise it makes total sense. And as September is predicted to get warmer and warmer in the UK, as the years go on, it may be time to redefine autumn…
Naturally, my chosen producers and suppliers have all inadvertently helped do this – if they don’t have what I want then I simply can’t have it. The mushroom season is on to the main autumnal players, namely (ceps or porcinis) grey and yellow chanterelles, trompettes and pied de mouton (affectionally known as hedgehogs), which are happily all on track for the dinner table on Saturday, having been readily commercially foraged in places like Bulgaria, Sweden and Romania and bought by my supplier Mushroom Man for a couple of weeks or so now. But my menu is missing out on my extra special mushrooms. I was hoping to get my hands on the exotic lobster mushroom – a parasitic mushroom that tastes and looks pretty similar to the shellfish (how good would that be on a blini as an amuse bouche?) – or a cauliflower mushroom, which looks like a sea coral and tastes like nuts, or the more common giant puffball (a breakfast favourite as a child), but they just haven’t been on the marketplace. However, like we should in any season, I will be making the most of the cultivated mushrooms like enoki and king oysters, and possibly a few shiitakes. The third course of the seven course mushroom supper club will feature a grilled wild mushrooms tasting platter with different accompaniments, so guests can try the different mushrooms individually and experience their differing tastes, so they’re still going to be lots to try.
In another cooking lesson (there’s one a day to be had, at least), the apples I had my heart set on were Opal apples – they are lovely and sweet, have a great golden colour and don’t brown at all; perfect for cocktails. But, alas, Sam at Loddington Farm, who is donating the apples so we get to give a larger charity donation, told me last week that the harvest isn’t ready – it’s just too hot. So we have an earlier fruiting variety, Sweet Tango, grown on the farm in Kent. Apparently, it’s juicy and sweet, with a touch of citrus, honey and spice, so it should go brilliantly with my aperitif and pudding course, although there’s some obvious tweaking ahead before Saturday – my delivery comes tomorrow. Mind you, regardless of the variety, it’s a real treat to get them fresh off the farm and that’s bound to shine through, taste-wise.
Blackcurrants and blackberries
The blackcurrants and blackberries are right on track – I am very excited to get some fresh of the former. As most blackcurrants go into making our Ribena, it feels really special to get some fresh and I’ll be making the most of them through the supper club menu, without overdoing it and repeating flavours too much, hopefully. The berries are from Anthony Snell’s Windmill Hill Farm in Hereford, who, as well as being a berry frantic, is president of the International Blackcurrant Association – so that’s dedication for you. He sprinkles blackcurrants on his muesli he loves them so much and he’s sending me some Victoria blackberries – his favourite for taste. They’ll be paired with some new-season wild venison, which will be a delicately flavoured cut, so that would all work out nicely.
Herbs and flowers
It wouldn’t be a supper club without some sometimes weird and wonderful bits and bobs from Westlands Wow, the micro herb and edible flower producer in Worcestershire. Growing patterns and cutting times are still dictated by light levels, even though the herbs are grown within a glasshouse. I’ll be pairing mushrooms with a micro leaf herb and blackberry salad, including nettles, bull blood chard, parsley, wasabi rocket, garlic clive flowers and butterfly sorrel, not to mention some crazy-looking grown-in-the-dark horseradish shoots.
The drinks menu is full of autumnal flavours – i.e. the tastes of summer that we preserve so we can continue to enjoy them at this time of year. I’ve secured some really delicate and savoury Elderflower Liqueur from South Gloucestershire farm, Bramley & Gage, to go with the apples for the welcome cocktail, some Lyme Bay Winery Elderberry and Port Liqueur to accompany the cheese course, and my favourite English wine producers Brightwell Vineyard’s Oxford Regatta for the gamey main and Castle Brook’s 2010 Vintage Classic Cuvée, produced by asparagus growers the Chinn family in Wye Valley, for the first couple of courses.