Autumn’s Arrival Brings A Fruitful Bounty

The cooler mornings have arrived; autumn is here and brings with it the end of the summer stone fruit season and the arrival of great fresh  produce that thrives most in the lead-up to winter.

Artists, authors and philosophers often wax lyrical about this season. Albert Camus called it ‘a second spring when every leaf is a flower’.

Autumn is also an exciting season for growing and cooking. Many items of produce need a long time to ripen in the warmer months and come into their own at the start of the season. Tomatoes are everywhere, in colours from black to yellow and sizes from mini to massive. Pumpkins are ready and eggplants are a bargain.

It is peak season for tomatoes, pumpkins, mushrooms and eggplants while apples, pears, figs, lemons and pomegranates are all on the shelves and tasting delicious. Watermelons and rockmelons are juicy sweet, and you’ll find the pick of the crop at Yuen’s.

Nuts also come into their own – fresh walnuts, pistachios, almonds and macadamias, and even chestnuts.

The latter, of course, is an old European favourite for roasting. Chestnuts have a soft, crumbly texture and an earthy sweetness that owes more to sweet potato than nuts.

Once upon a time, long ago, they were the epitome of ‘fast food’ when in season, being roasted on brazier fires for sale for a few pennies on cold street corners. They were so popular, they even warranted artistic attention such as in this painting  by Antonio Paoletti. European street vendors still sell roasted chestnuts today, but their set-up is more up to date than an open fire!

You can often find roasted chestnuts for sale at fetes and markets in Australia, but why not make your own? It’s not hard to do.

Those who were children in Europe, or whose parents were, might also be familiar with ‘conkers’. However, this regionally popular children’s game is played with horse chestnuts, not the edible type, which is sweeter and softer.

The autumn apple harvest starts in mid to late summer with Royal Galas, and continues until the last of the Sundowners in May. Pears are also at their zenith, offering a range of flavours across types such as the soft, golden Williams, the elegant, cinnamon-esque Beurre Bosc and the flavoursome Packham pears.

The quince is in the same family as apples and pears and also comes along in autumn. When cooked, it takes on some of the best aspects of its cousins – the  floral aroma of pears and the firmness of apples. In the process, it acquires a coral pink colour.

The author of this article suggests poaching quince in liquid with sugar is the best way to cook them, and also links to several other good recipes. Here are some  recipes from SBS that state quince makes excellent preserves, especially marmalade.

The autumn harvest of figs also makes them cheap enough to turn into jam. This recipe shows just how easy it is. Ficus carica is an Asian species of flowering plants in the mulberry family, known as the common fig. Incidentally, the phrase ‘to not give a fig’ (meaning ‘to not care less’) has nothing to do with the fruit. The fig in the phrase comes from the Spanish word fico, which still means ‘fig’, but in this context refers to a traditional gesture of contempt made by placing the thumb between the first and second fingers. The gesture was common in Shakespeare’s time and was known as The Fig of Spain.

As autumn gets chillier, we welcome mandarins, grapefruit and the early varieties of navel oranges. For grapefruit lovers who also have high cholesterol, the season can be heartbreaking because grapefruit and the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins don’t mix well together.

Grapefruit contains a chemical that interferes with your body’s ability to break down or metabolise certain statin medications. However, the good news is not all statins are affected equally by grapefruit juice, so grapefruit fans may be able to switch to a statin type that’s less affected. This page has the low-down and could be a good reference to discuss with your GP if you dream of a glass of grapefruit juice or a tasty half grapefruit sprinkled with sugar… yum!