Digging deep for our English roots: Inspired by the autumnal harvest now appearing, Emily Green spurns foreign produce in favour of local, cooked any way except school-dinner style

COOKING and eating seasonally may sound simple, but there are pitfalls. Roald Dahl's ferocious bon viveur Uncle Oswald would have us believe that grouse eaten on the Glorious 12th is a delicacy. I disagree, unless you like grouse un-hung, or frozen. That autumn apple in your greengrocer's might be from New Zealand and have spent longer in a cold store than on a tree. Several that I put in a pie recently had no moisture whatsoever; they simply curled up and died.

Yet finally there is a rich, autumnal harvest before us. Grouse is mature in the butchers' shops, and the weather is cool enough to crave it. As accompaniments, celeriac, beetroot and parsnips are arriving, earthy and distinctive. Frances Smith, a Kent farmer, reports that baby leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, baby brussels sprouts and the first squash are all on their way in.

The Women's Farming Union, worried we will ignore such delights, has published the Root Vegetable Survey, which claims memories of poor school dinners hold the key to many people's aversion. Restaurants have compounded the problem, spurning local produce in favour of exotics such as buffalo mozzarella salads or Thai curries.

Food with just such a foreign accent might have been predominant a year ago at the 192 restaurant in west London. The chef was Italian, her second an Australian. Yet a new young English chef, Dan Evans, has radically changed the tone. Last Friday I had curried parsnip soup, followed by grouse faggots on celeriac mash. They were so good, I asked for the recipes. His deft sous- chef, David Morosini, was kind enough to oblige.

I already had one of them: the soup is a classic, from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book (Michael Joseph, pounds 18.99). The faggots are Mr Evans's, made from the legs of the grouse after he has already served the breasts. You may need to notify the butcher in advance that you would like caul, the casing in which to pack the faggots.

CURRIED PARSNIP SOUP

Serves 6

Ingredients: 1tbs coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seed

1 dried red chilli

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp ground fenugreek

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, split

1 large parsnip, peeled, cubed

2 heaped tbs butter

1 tbs flour

2 pints/1 litre beef stock

1/4 pint/150ml cream

chopped chives

Preparation: Grind the coriander, cumin, chilli, turmeric and fenugreek. Gently sweat the parsnip, onion and garlic in butter over a low heat in a covered pan for about 10 minutes. Stir in flour and 1tbs of the spice mixture (store the rest in an airtight jar). Cook for several minutes, stirring, then gradually add stock. Cook until parsnip is tender, puree and correct seasoning. Reheat, add cream, stir and garnish with chives and fried croutons.

GROUSE FAGGOTS

Serves 10-12

Ingredients: 1lb/450g grouse legs, boned and minced

8oz/225g chicken, minced

4oz/115g veal, minced

8oz/225g minced pork

4oz/115g grouse liver and giblets

1 large onion, diced

1 glass red wine

1 egg

1-2 heaped tbs finely chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme (or half that amount if dried)

6 juniper berries, ground

pig's caul

salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the mirepoix (diced vegetables): finely chop 1 large carrot, 1 leek, 2 stalks celery, add 1 bay leaf and 1 sprig thyme

2 pints grouse, chicken or veal stock

Preparation: Preheat oven to maximum heat. Saute offal, so that it is raw in middle and caramelised outside. Chop. Combine other meats and add offal. Put chopped onion in a saucepan, add 1 glass red wine, and cook off the wine until it is all rather sticky. Add to mixed meats with herbs, ground juniper berries, egg and seasoning. Take care to undersalt. To check seasoning, fry a small dab and sample. Sweat the chopped vegetables for the mirepoix in 3- 4tbs olive oil or butter over a low heat until tender but not brown, about 15-20 minutes. As they cook, make faggot balls of the meat mixture, wrap with caul, knot and trim. Add 2-3tbs olive oil to a frying pan, heat and sear each of the faggots to crisp the caul skin. Spread the sweated mirepoix over the bottom of a deep baking dish. Add faggots and just enough stock, and maybe a glass of wine, to cover them. Place in hot oven. As soon as the stock bubbles slightly, reduce heat to 300F/150C/gas 2. Make sure the faggots do not boil or they will be tough as boots. Cook for 1 1/2 -2 hours. Serve on celeriac mash with pan juices.

CELERIAC MASH

Ingredients: 1 good-sized celeriac root

2 large potatoes

butter or cream

1 onion, peeled

salt and pepper

Preparation: Peel celeriac and boil with onion until tender, about 20 minutes. Cook potatoes, peel. Discard onion. Mash celeriac and potatoes together. Add butter, cream or olive oil to taste and season.

HOWEVER welcome the return of olde English cookery, you do not have to restrict yourself to classics to best employ the staples. Frances Smith will shred her baby brussels sprouts and stir- fry them with walnuts in peanut oil, garlic and a good dash of soy sauce.

The WFU survey shows the carrot as a runaway favourite over beets, parsnips and turnips. This recipe for Indian fritters comes from a Melbourne chef, Stephanie Alexander, and appears in her book Stephanie's Feasts and Stories (Allen & Unwin). These are perfect to accompany drinks; Ms Alexander serves them with fresh coriander.

CARROT FRITTERS

Serves 6

Ingredients: 5oz/150g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

5 fl oz beer

1 large egg, beaten

6 spring onions, or several baby leeks

5oz/150g grated carrot

Preparation: Sift together salt, spices and flour. Add beer and egg. Mix well. Stir in onions and carrots. Heat oil and deep-fry mixture by the spoonful until golden brown. Drain on paper and serve with toothpicks.

MY NEW greengrocer only brings in fresh horseradish for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year on 28 September. Most will go into one of the most delicious condiments there is to accompany boiled meats - pureed beetroot and horseradish. This recipe is from Simon Hopkinson, chef of Bibendum restaurant in South Kensington. L'chaim.

BEETROOT & HORSERADISH PUREE

Ingredients: 5-6in stick of fresh horseradish, peeled and grated

2 beetroots, cooked and peeled

1 tbs balsamic vinegar

1 tsp sugar

good pinch of salt

Preparation: Puree ingredients and store in the fridge in a screw-top jar. It should last for several weeks.

(Photograph omitted)

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