If, like me, you’ve been born and bred in Perthshire then I would imagine that while the rest of the country bemoans the cold air and the nights drawing in, you are revelling in what I consider to be the most majestic of seasons. I love autumn, with its quiet calm and eerie dark nights, I feel very drawn to nature and all that she has to offer. This strange shift in mood and air brings a sense of something spiritual with it and although some might see decay I can’t help but see joy in this most underrated of seasons.
Every year I wonder why we try so hard to cut this amazing season short. It seems to me that we go from summer, into a quick hallowe’en and guy fawkes, and then we’re all talking Christmas and referring to winter. And yet, all around us is this explosion of colour; the impossible to miss reds, golds and russets of the trees lining our parks and flooding our hillsides. It is a burst of energy, nature’s own spectacular display of fireworks that welcomes in the change to our food, our environment and our own needs and wants (I want soup and a warm running hat just in case anyone’s wondering!).
For me, autumn is a season that is very much alive and it should be revered and enjoyed to the full. It brings a culmination to the efforts that have been made throughout the year with a final leap to bring an abundant harvest before we settle into the harshness of winter.
Pottering about 63’s kitchen on my own, quiet after lunch service, watching the streets turn darker and the sun-kissed skin of the Scottish lassies turn paler…. This is my favourite time of year. I think that’s why I become more than a bit intolerant of negative autumn attitudes. We suddenly get swept away in the doom and gloom of no bloody raspberries (I love a Perthshire berry as much as the next chef but there are other fruits you know!) and ghouls of Christmas present, that we forget there is an entire season dripping in apples, pears, plums, parnsips, carrots, leeks…. The list reads like the who’s who of great Scottish ingredients and yet I hear chefs moaning! Instead of this, why not enjoy the break that the industry brings and spoil your guests and tastebuds with the treats that the frosty soil is so proudly sweetening for us all. Damn it, even our neepie Hallowe’en lanterns have gone pumpkin shaped – what is that all about?!
I believe, that as a chef, it is my job to take nature’s gifts and turn them into something wonderful. So as the green grass becomes strewn with a biblical like laying of the bodies, and the branches bend with autumn fruits, chatting to their mates about who might end up in a crumble, I can’t help but wonder… who they hell are these chefs that walk past and ignore this? It’s like getting a Christmas present from your granny and not opening it – a bloody disgrace.
So, get your basket, get your buckets, your car boot should be open and you should be rejoicing in the sheer volume of this short lived harvest. It might be too much for the weekend service or your family’s dinner but I have two words for you my friends… Pickling and Preserving! Get your mustard seeds and air tight jars at the ready because this vast array of produce, hanging in weighty abundance, is a privilege for home cooks and restaurant chefs alike.
Brad and I have been like a wee preserving machine! We have fridges and shelves full of pickled plums and pears, chutneys, icecreams and dried fruits. They are lined up waiting to hit the new year’s menus. I want my guests to eat the produce that has fallen here, on my doorstep in Perthshire. Not onto the back of a truck in Holland.
Of course, it’s not just fruit and veg that is at its best in autumn. The Scottish wilderness comes into its own. If the stag is the king then the salmon, must surely be Scotland’s queen. Finalising its amazing journey upstream, from sea to quiet river bed, this wonderful creature brings with it a poetic leap through the seasons. I feel like I should be sitting on a munro in a kilt while I’m writing this…. Instead I’m sitting staring out the restaurant window on a dreich day and trying to remember the last time I served Salmon on the menu. I love wild salmon, love it. But it is incredibly hard to source – young Brad, my partner in the kitchen (infact he’s the other 50% of our team!) is a keen fisherman and he explains the “catch and release” policy that has been implemented to revive the salmon stocks in Scotland.
With a gillie on every beat you’d be mad to defy this particular law so if you’re looking for Scottish Salmon then you’ll probably have to settle on farmed – although I’d argue the taste and texture isn’t nearly as good which is why I won’t serve it in 63. But with wild salmon in short supply you could look for a sustainable, farming operation that is committed to the welfare of the fish and the environment, such as the one at Loch Duart. Our Smoked Salmon supplier, Dunkeld Smoked Salmon use these guys and I trust Rob’s judgement wholeheartedly. His smoked fish is better than any others I’ve tasted – every single time!
A wee digression into farmed fish there… that was almost another whole blog! It’s true that our meat and fish isn’t all as seasonal as the fruit and veg, but there are certain things that just taste better at this time of year. Our bodies begin to crave the warm, hearty stews and casseroles that autumn is so synonymous with. I’m all about satisfying the gut first and as our eating habits change and we want these fatty, flavoursome meats, nature holds up the perfect vegetables and suddenly you’re scoffing down the dishes that top “my favourite dinners” lists all over Scotland. Like partridge with curly kale and mash – you’d be going some to beat that.
So here’s what I say – winter doesn’t officially start until December 21st. Pull on a pair of boots and enjoy this most majestic of seasons. If you don’t have a dog, steal one and get out for a walk as the light draws in around the hills. And once you’re home, sit down to a big hearty bowl of homemade soup, thick with neeps, carrots and leeks, a few handfuls of lentils and a flaky, salty ham shank. That my friends, is the food of the gods and it’ll cost you less than a quid a bowl.
Keep your turkey for a wee while yet. I’ll thank Scotland it’s autumn.