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Farmers’ markets in autumn are a cornucopia of colour

From Russet red apples and wild mushrooms to gnarly squashes and fresh clams, this is Gurdeep Loyal’s guide to shopping at Borough Market this season

Monday 16 October 2023 06:30 BST
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Wild mushrooms have their moment at this time of year
Wild mushrooms have their moment at this time of year (Getty/iStock)

There’s something enchanting about the mellow-misted colours of Borough Market in autumn that I find utterly absorbing and truly magical. Hypnotic shades of rusted ochre reds, dark butterscotch browns, plum purples, mustard yellows, forest greens and golden copper oranges. It’s a palette of comforting abundance, which ushers forth the only season of the year whose flavours exhilarate the tastebuds just as much as they soothe the soul.

Russet red Discovery apples are one of the first fruits to arrive. Their sweet-acidic bite and floral strawberry notes pair fantastically with cheeses like Cumin Gouda or Bath Soft Cheese, drizzled with a kiss of truffle honey if feeling fancy. Tart ombré-green Bramley apples call for slow baking into cinnamon-sugar scented pies, old fashioned crumbles or streusel-topped crisps – the latter being particularly delicious with the addition of toasted coconut, rum-soaked sultanas, and a pinch of warming green cardamon.

But the cornucopia of autumn’s apples also takes wonderfully to savoury treatment in the kitchen. A recipe I discovered recently from a north Italian neighbour is Tuscan sausage baked apples. The apples are sliced across the top to create a lid, hollowed out, then stuffed with a piquant filling of spiced Italian sausage meat, garlic, crushed fennel seeds, finely chopped shallots, toasted breadcrumbs, pecorino, wine vinegar and a splash of vermouth. Bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes until the apples are burnished outside and the filling cooked through – it makes for the most sumptuous autumnal supper with big hunks of focaccia to mop up the juices. Braeburn and Egremont Russets are great varieties for this, their hard-fleshed nuttiness adding an extra dimension of flavour to the dish.

One of the most thrilling markers of autumn in the market are chalkboard signs blazoned with the word “WILD”: a moniker attached to both mushrooms and game birds, both of which have their moment at this time of year. Girolles, chanterelles, pheasant and partridge are a quartet of ingredients that cry out to be married together in a pie. This is an occasion for a crumbly lardy pastry, generous sprigs of fresh rosemary and a good splash of vin jaune or dry sherry for yeasted acidic kick.

The comedic sight of squashes piled high in wooden market crates in an assortment of gnarly shapes and speckled colours always looks to me like a convention of delicious misfits gathered together for their annual symposium. Their names alone – butternut, acorn, pumpkin, delicata – have an inviting poetry that autumn’s harvests alone possess. My favourite among them is the kabocha – a dappled green gourd with a fluffy orange inside that tastes of fired chestnuts, floral honey and sweet potato all at once. Roasted at 180C for 30 minutes in elliptic boat shapes with a generous glug of olive oil and either a sprinkling of ras al hanout, a splash of ponzu or a scattering of freshly torn sage, it makes the perfect accompaniment to any autumnal roast.

But I think kabocha squash is most delicious when gently baked with a little brown sugar and grated nutmeg, then blitzed to a velvety orange mash for enriching autumnal deserts. A deep-filled pumpkin pie is the truly classic way to go, but the bake I turn to on repeat every autumn is the kabocha, olive oil, and bittersweet chocolate cake from Los Angeles-based restaurant, Gjlena. Eaten warm from the oven in a puddle of vanilla custard, its rich, buttery texture and intense roasted-squash flavour is the bear-hug of comfort that autumn’s colder days demand.

The comedic sight of squashes piled high is typical at this time of year (Getty/iStock)

The market’s fruits of the sea also flourish at this time of year. Turbot – king of the flatfish – is exquisite in the prime of autumn. With its firm flaky texture and delicate flavour, it takes well to spicing – but always do so with subtlety. I like to pan fry well-seasoned fillets in a little oil with a good knob of butter, crisping up the skin side for 3-4 minutes. Complete by flipping over and adding a pinch of a single spice to the frothy butter, as suits your mood. Crushed black lime will add zesty smokiness, finely ground pink peppercorns bring lemony fruitiness, or for something a little decadent, a pinch of crushed saffron pairs perfectly and tints the turbot bright sunshine yellow. Whichever direction you take it, serve with leeky spring onion champ on the side.

For autumnal suppers with a more brazen hit of spice, I turn to the season’s fresh clams, which arrive at the market in abundance at this time of year. Their sweet brininess has a special affinity with the powerful flavours of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I love them stir-fried with fresh ginger matchsticks, bruised lemongrass, slivers of garlic, a little tamarind paste, palm sugar, fish sauce and a chiffonade of Thai basil to finish. Add a birdseye chilli if you want a touch of autumnal heat and serve with fragrant jasmine rice. Alternatively, there is no better time than now to be making spaghetti alle vongole on repeat!

Bundles of freshly excavated beetroot, dotted around Borough’s market halls like giant purple baubles, are the quintessence of earthy sweetness that makes cooking in autumn so homely. For a simple warming lunch dish, keep the beets unpeeled then slice into thick discs. Jumble together in a shallow roasting tin with blanched purple kale, a jar of Spanish chickpeas, a glug of tarragon vinegar, maple syrup and a generous sprinkle of smoked salt. Roasted at 190C for 30-40 minutes, it makes for a delicious vegan bake. These cooked beetroots are equally delicious blitzed into a soup with some good vegetable stock and obligatory ripple of double cream just before serving. Garnishing with Kentish cobnuts will add hazelnutty crunch, while shavings of manchego cheese add a delicious tang.

Among Borough’s most welcoming autumn arrivals are the wicker baskets of pear-shaped quinces in muted shades of custard yellow. They make for the most delicious autumnal breakfast compotes and chutneys – marrying just as well with vanilla bean, cinnamon and sugar as they do with freshly grated ginger, cider vinegar and star anise. Their sweet citrussy bitterness also makes them wonderful for baking into brown sugar upside-down cakes, pairing gloriously with toasted almonds and marzipan. I particularly love cubes of quince gently stewed in orange juice, honey and cognac for layering into nostalgic trifles, with dense madeira cake and pillowy orange blossom whipped cream.

But of all the sights in the market, it’s the majestic purple of ripe autumn figs that brings me most joy. Their flavours are so intensely raisiny at this time of year that I like to eat them fresh – simply score in a cross with a knife, then gently squeeze open like a ruby-seeded lotus. Their syrupy sweet flavours can be amplified even further by adding savoury sweet adornments for devouring together in the same bite. The flavour-chord trio of ripe figs, crumbled Stichelton and sour cherry molasses is rather special. But what I love most is a slice of warm sourdough with the jammiest soft figs of the season smooshed on top like an avocado – then decorated with slivers of pickled walnut, fresh thyme and a little flaky salt. It’s a combination that both enlivens your palate and comforts your senses in equal measure. All the magic of autumn on toast – simply sublime!

For more information on what you can find at Borough Market, visit: boroughmarket.org.uk

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