Food & Drink: Time to cook your goose

September is the month for squirrelling away the summer's harvest and plotting meals to come.

Call me an old-fashioned romantic, but September is a time for day-dreaming. The last of the warm summer sun seems to lull one into spending gentle afternoons picking elderberries or making plum jam. Rummaging the countryside or stirring jam pans is very conducive to thought.

Given that this is probably the last month of mild weather, it is a good time to pick wild blackberries, elderberries or rosehips. Rowanberries are also worth watching. The berries are ripe when they turn scarlet but this can be as late as November, depending on how far north you live. Enthusiastic foragers should consult Wild Food by Roger Phillips (Pan) which is full of clear photographs, sound advice and interesting recipes. It is important to choose unpolluted sites, even though blackberries and elderberries do well in urban car parks.

Naturally, mushroom pickers are also on the rampage in September because all fungi love mild damp weather. Horn of Plenty (trompette des morts), Hedgehog fungus (pied de mouton), chanterelles and ceps can all be found now. However, given the dangers of poisoning, I prefer to buy mine. You can even buy mixed packets of wild mushrooms from supermarkets such as Waitrose. Two wild mushrooms that are easy to identify are the huge snow- white puff-balls and field mushrooms. Just remember that the latter's gills should always be pink or brown. But beware, the highly poisonous Destroying Angel is a similar white-gilled mushroom.

If you are smitten by the jam-making bug, then it is worth contacting the Farm Retail Association. They can tell you where to find your chosen fruit or vegetable from farm shops and pick-your-own farms. If you need crab apples or a rare plum variety, for example, they will attempt to find your nearest source.

Everything appears to be about two weeks early this year, so plums and damsons will be over before you can blink. But apples, pears and late- fruiting raspberries are all looking good. Farm shops are also a good place to find this year's honey crop, because many farmers have deals with local beekeepers whereby the bees pollinate the orchards and the farmer markets some of the honey. Pickle makers should look out for good, cheap pickling onions, along with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and the mandatory marrow.

I have to admit that every September I find myself re-assessing the year and making plans for the future. It's not just that I have the urge to sort out the cupboards and stock up with goodies for the winter. It's that I address that perennial problem - am I content with the food that I buy and eat?

Take the members of a subscription farm such as biodynamic Perry Court Farm, near Canterbury. Unlike. a normal box scheme, the participants (shareholders) agree an annual budget and growing plan with their organic farmer. They then pay a subscription for an agreed share of that year's crop - their allocated box size. About a quarter of the members also help with the farming. This month, their boxes will, among other things, contain summer squash, unusual tomato varieties, cucumbers, bitter-sweet red chicorys, mizuna, rocket and pak choy; as well as juicy fat beetroot, carrots, potatoes, onions, kohlrabi, daikon radishes, peppers, green cabbages, rainbow chard and sweet Siberian red kale. All for a mere pounds 5.00 a week! Somehow mass- produced supermarket food seems less alluring.

However, supermarkets do have their consolations. Luscious bunches of fragrant Muscat grapes, for example, or sweet black Turkish figs. Incidentally, many seeded varieties of grapes have far more flavour than the modern seedless varieties. Also, keep an eye out for a new late-fruiting strawberry variety called Everest. It is rumoured to taste better than sweet, glossy Bolero, the current favourite autumn strawberry.

If you notice certain cooks smirking, you can be sure it's because they have found a good source for the first of the new season's partridge and wild duck. Partridge is supposed to be in its prime in October and November, but I find it impossible to resist now. Shooters are allowed to kill nine different species of duck, although game dealers rarely state which they are selling, often labelling the smaller species such as goldeneye or tufted duck as wigeon. Mallards, wigeon and tiny teal are generally regarded as the best-tasting ducks because they graze on grass and corn stubble. But avoid the shoveller at all costs. It has an unpleasant taste brought about by its predilection for shovelling up beakfuls of mud, which it sifts for tiny snails and invertebrates.

Fowl lovers should also take note that they can now purchase, by mail order, a Michaelmas goose from Anne Petch, at Heal Farm in King's Nympton, Devon (01769 574341). Traditionally, farmers would fatten their young birds on the harvest gleanings, before selling them at goose fairs in time for Michaelmas Day (29 September).

Smaller and less fatty than at Christmas, an unstuffed Michaelmas goose will feed about three or four people, hence the custom of stuffing them with rabbit legs and sage-and-onion stuffing to make them go further. The goose was then enjoyed, with roasted windfall apples, after the quarter- day rents and bills had been settled. It was, and is, a good time to take stock of the year.

For further details on PYO farms send two first-class stamps and your name and address to The Farm Retail Association, The Greenhouse, PO Box 575, Southampton, Hampshire, SO15 7ZB (02380 362150) or look at www.farmshopping.com.

If you want to know more about subscription farming you could attend the Soil Association's `Weekend Workshop on Community Supported Agriculture' - from 6pm Fri 10 Sept to Sun afternoon. Contact: Amanda Daniel, Local Food Links, Soil Association, Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6BY (0117 914 2424, fax: 0117 925 2504, e-mail: adainel@soilassociation.org). Tickets cost pounds 85 per person and include meals, two nights accommodation, two farm visits, lectures, discussions and workshops

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