Crumble season: how to eat in autumn
Charlie Hale on the delights of Autumn’s comfort food
A couple of weekends ago on an unseasonably cold March weekend, grieving the end of Sundays spent stretched out on the beach, I ventured into my pile of dog-eared cookbooks. They’ve been collecting dust ever since November brought the sticky heat of summer and I lost my appetite for hours spent experimenting in the kitchen.
The heat does funny things to my hunger, but when the crisper days edge in, suddenly I’m craving Indian-spiced pumpkin soup, roast chicken on a Sunday and bowl-fulls of piled high pasta in front of the television.
One of my favourite things to eat in autumn is melted cheese on toast with a drizzle of hot sauce, or a dollop of wholegrain mustard. Particularly good after a boozy lunch, but a fine enough supper if eaten alongside a bowl of soup or a crunchy, celery salad. Perhaps not the most fashionable choice in the age of clean-eating, but – indulgent as it is – it’s comforting to know total pleasure can be found in something as simple as toasted sourdough under a blanket of gooey cheddar.
Speaking of simplicity, scrambled eggs must also have a mention. Nothing makes the heart soar like perfectly cooked scrambled eggs. No matter how shattered the soul, buttery scrambled eggs, stirred slowly – but consistently – over a medium-low heat, taken off whilst slightly too wet, and seasoned only at the end is as good a therapy session as any. Over the years, my preferred method has changed, but this one, I’d argue, can’t be beaten.
As a Brit, nothing says autumn comfort food like roast chicken on a Sunday with a side of heavily salted mashed potato and caramelised carrots. Gathering around the table to tuck into a roast joint is a tradition worth preserving in my books, although the ritual of gathering is more important than what’s served on the table.
If we were really lucky, Sunday’s roast chicken would be followed by a bowl of apple crumble. I’d be hard-pressed to find something that brings me more immediate delight than a bowl of hot, buttery apple crumble. A desert island dish, I’d pick the humble crumble over any number of raspberry soufflés or decadent cakes. It’s also so straightforward to make even a total novice can impress, you just need butter, sugar, flour and fruit.
I realise there’s a butter-heavy theme here, but comfort food needn’t equate to “guilty pleasures” that leave you comatose on the couch. When a starch-and-cream combo is too much of an overload, gustatory happiness can be found in the fruit and veg drawer.
Figs bring me a great deal of joy. I sometimes grill them and add to a bed of rocket with prosciutto and blue cheese, but for me they’re best fresh, and – if I’m feeling extra indulgent – drizzled with a teaspoon of truffle honey.
In colder weather, when you’re hankering after something hot and filling, a spicy, spinach-laden dhal, for instance, can warm your cockles with minimal guilt and plenty of nutrients. Then there’s miso roasted eggplant (cooked slowly for optimal stickiness), mushroom risotto with black truffle, or simply pan-fried broccoli with plenty of garlic.
Truly satisfying food is less about just filling the stomach and more about delighting the senses. If you let your tastebuds lead, then rustle up those ingredients with plenty of care, balancing the smooth with the sharp, you’re well on your way to the sort of food that will lift the spirits until the heat returns to steal our appetites.