What to grow, forage, shop and cook as September draws to a close

In this episode of her year-long series ‘A Year of Flavour’, KATE RYAN reflects on the month of September. You can catch up on Kate’s series to-date on EchoLive.ie
What to grow, forage, shop and cook as September draws to a close

Duck and Spiced Blackberry Sauce. Picture: Kate Ryan

SEPTEMBER eases us into autumn and soothes the pain of waving goodbye to summer by unleashing a bounty of wild foods. The prospect of gathering them up and bringing them back to the kitchen to make delicious preserves and pickles makes this my favourite month of the year!

With so many good things at our fingertips, stained purple from endless rounds of blackberry picking, let’s just dive in and see what we can forage, grow, and cook this month!

GROW IT YOURSELF

Once upon a time, my grandad Bill got stopped and searched by Australian customs and charged with smuggling runner bean seeds into the country – a Runner Bean-Runner, if you will. It must have been a particularly good crop that year, grandad collected the seeds, dried them and took them to Australia to plant for the summer Down Under.

Good in theory, disastrous in practice; but it does illustrate the love for a fine crop of runner beans that is endemic in my family.

Kate Ryan of www.flavour.ie
Kate Ryan of www.flavour.ie

Easy to grow, runner beans are a prolific cropping plant. They hide themselves well, and part of the fun is trying to find them under the mesh of giant leaves and tangled stems. Picking often ensures the smaller beans grow on quicker, but does create the issue of what to do with all those delicious beans?

Last year, I made a particularly fine Runner Bean Chutney. It was a tad... well, brown, but spectacular with a strong cheese, particularly Hegarty’s Cheddar; and if you make a batch now it will be ready for Christmas. Not a recipe of my own, I discovered it after an internet trawl; but Runner Bean Chutney gets a thumbs up from me.

I recently came across a dish for runner beans called Little Fish from the Garden, beans, deep fried in tempura batter and served with a kind of tartare sauce. Apparently, tempura isn’t from Japan at all but Portugal, and this popular Portuguese dish was originally eaten when fish was in short supply. This is also on my list of things to try, and I can’t wait!

It’s hard to beat runner beans steamed and served lashed in butter and black pepper but show them some extra love with aromatic spices and tomatoes for a great south Indian inspired dish – see the recipe for Spiced Beans below. We ate this with some Bombay Aloo and flat breads and it is entirely vegan too.

If you have Nasturtium flowers growing in your garden, collect the seed heads that will start appearing now as the flowers go over. Poor Man’s Capers are Nasturtium seeds salted and pickled and taste great! See method below.

Elsewhere in the garden, Celeriac, Pak Choi, Kohlrabi, Kale and Beetroot are all putting on great growth. Some are ready to pick now, others still require my patience!

Winter crops of baby turnips and salad leaves are in so take advantage of the last of the autumn warmth for germination and quick growth. Ongoing is the work of picking and drying herbs, petals, and seeds, either for use next year or to store for mid-winter flavours.

The kitchen and garden are hives of activity, and that’s before we’ve even gone out for a forage!

FORAGE FOR IT

I’ve recently returned from my summer break in Donegal, where the Mountain Ash – or Rowan Tree – is certainly living up to its name and flourishing; every tree laden with bunches of fire-red berries, yet I still managed to return without picking a single one!

In the more mountainous or hilly parts of County Cork, Rowan will be much more abundant than where I am. The tart berries are best for making jelly or a syrup and are packed with vitamin C.

Another great wild berry to pick is Sea Buckthorn. As the name suggests, it grows happiest near the sea in sand or sandy soils. Its leaves are grey silver in colour, the berries are oval and bright orange, and take some dexterity to pick as they squash easily when ripe.

Sea Buckthorn. Picture: Kate Ryan
Sea Buckthorn. Picture: Kate Ryan

They give off an unpleasant aroma during cooking, and the flavour crosses the sweet-savoury border, so won’t be a taste for everyone. But the resultant fruity sauce goes well with anything creamy - topping for a Panna Cotta, served with brie-type cheese such as Durrus or Gubbeen, or even over soft ice cream. Try pairing Sea Buckthorn with my Buttermilk and Carrageen Pudding, recipe below.

From the end of the month, Rosehips from our native wild rose will be at their peak for picking. Every year I make a large bottle of syrup and take two teaspoons after breakfast every morning from November to February to stave off colds and sniffles. It is an old cure for such things, and I use Darina Allen’s method for making Rosehip Syrup from her Forgotten Skills of Cooking book which yields a beautiful syrup every time!

Of course, if you prefer your cures to be more robust, when the Hawthorn berries are at their brightest red from now until the first frost, fill a 1 litre glass bottle about a fifth full of berries. Add 150 grams of white sugar, top with gin, secure with a lid, and shake every day for a month, then leave in a cool, dark place until Christmas when you can serve your guests a festive Hawthorn Gin and Tonic with a spritz of fresh lime.

In truth, September is the month of the blackberry, and this is a very good year for them. Large, plump, juicy, sweet – and everywhere! 

I love swirling them into my morning porridge topped with pecan nuts and Highbank Orchard Apple Syrup, making Blackberry and Vanilla Jam, and pairing with apples for a seasonal crumble. But they are also versatile in savoury dishes too, particularly duck, a meat that I am always drawn to at this time of year.

Try my recipe for a Spiced Blackberry Sauce that goes wonderfully with pan fried duck breast, roast potatoes, and kale.

SHOP FOR IT

As this is the peak season for Irish produce, it’s the ideal time to make an effort to check labels and choose Irish grown. Only 1% of Irish farming land is used to grow vegetables, but between GIY, urban farm enterprises, better access through local food markets, and more climate awareness, there’s more produce available than ever, so let’s support that.

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese. Picture: Kate Ryan
Cauliflower Mac n Cheese. Picture: Kate Ryan

Carrots, onions, sweetcorn, and potatoes are all in their prime. The last of the summer cauliflower are perfect now too, as is the weather for indulging in a bowl of pure comfort that is Cauliflower Mac n Cheese. I use a mix of three cheeses in the sauce: an extra mature cheddar like Hegarty’s, a stringy cheese like Emmental, and an extra mature cheese like Coolea, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Irish-grown celery comes into season now too and we all know it’s an essential ingredient in the base of any warming stew, soup, or casserole.

The last of the courgettes and aubergines chime with the height of tomato picking season – the time is right to batch make Ratatouille and portion off for the freezer. Use it to get extra veggies into kids by secretly blending into Bolognese sauce.

COOK IT

Spiced Beans. Picture: Kate Ryan
Spiced Beans. Picture: Kate Ryan

Spiced Beans

An aromatic and versatile vegetable dish; a great way to make use of runner bean gluts!

Ingredients

500g runner beans, cleaned, topped, tailed, and stringed

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp curry leaves (dried is fine)

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp coriander seeds

½ yellow mustard seeds

2 or 3 tomatoes, diced ¼ tsp chilli flakes

½ red chilli, sliced

Fresh coriander, chopped

Method:

Blanch the runner beans for 3-5 minutes depending on how large they are. Drain through a colander, set aside.

Heat a wok over a medium heat, add oil, then the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds.

As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, add in the drained runner beans and toss them to coat in the spiced oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and chilli, toss to combine.

Serve immediately, sprinkle over the coriander and garnish with slices of red chilli.

Poor Man’s Capers

Nasturtium seeds are delicious when pickled. I use them the same way as capers: add to sauces, tumble over salads, even topped on pizzas! I salt mine before pickling, it does alter their vibrant green colour slightly but makes for better eating.

Ingredients

No hard and fast rule on quantities here as it depends on how many seeds you can collect. Don’t feel you have to pick loads - I find a small jar will last me a year.

Nasturtium seeds

Salt

150 ml apple cider vinegar

1 tsp sugar

Bay leaf

Method:

  • Mix up a salt brine of one-part salt to four parts water, enough to submerge the seeds. Place seeds in a jar, pour over brine, screw on lid, and leave for a couple of days.
  • Pour seeds into a sieve and rinse under a cold tap. Sterilise a new jar.
  • Into a saucepan over a medium heat, add vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil and allow the sugar to dissolve.
  • Place the rinsed seeds into the sterilised jar, pour over the pickling liquor, top with a bay leaf and screw the lid on tight.
  • Leave to rest for two weeks before using.

Sea Buckthorn Buttermilk and Carrageen Pudding. Picture: Kate Ryan
Sea Buckthorn Buttermilk and Carrageen Pudding. Picture: Kate Ryan

Buttermilk and Carrageen Pudding with Sea Buckthorn Sauce

For the Sea Buckthorn Sauce

Ingredients

125 g Sea Buckthorn Berries

1 tsp honey

125 g white sugar

Method:

  • Rinse the berries, add them to a saucepan with honey and cook for 30 minutes until pulpy.
  • Strain the mix through a fine sieve, squeezing as much liquid as possible. Return to the saucepan, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook for five minutes or until thickened.
  • Decant into a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Refrigerate to set.

For the Buttermilk and Carrageen Pudding

(This recipe is adapted from Darina Allen’s classis Carrageen pudding recipe)

Ingredients

7g dried carrageen moss

450ml buttermilk (best quality)

500 ml thick double cream

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1 egg, separated

1 tbsp caster sugar

Method:

  • Soak the carrageen moss in some lukewarm water for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, into a heavy bottomed saucepan, pour the buttermilk, cream and vanilla bean paste. Strain the carrageen moss and add to the milky mixture. Place over a medium heat, bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Pour the milk mixture through a sieve, and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.
  • Into a separate bowl, add the egg yolk and sugar and whisk to combine. Slowly add the hot milk mixture whisking all the time to avoid scrambling the egg.
  • In a clean bowl, add the egg white and whisk to a stiff peak. Fold gently into the milk mixture and pour into a serving bowl.
  • Place in the fridge for a minimum of 4-6 hours to fully set.
  • To serve, spoon out a portion of the pudding into a bowl and top with some of the Sea Buckthorn sauce.

Blackberries are bountiful. Picture: Kate Ryan
Blackberries are bountiful. Picture: Kate Ryan

Spiced Blackberry Sauce

The perfect seasonal sauce to accompany a pan-fried duck breast.

Ingredients

250 ml chicken stock

250 ml red wine

250 g blackberries (reserve a few for garnish)

1 tsp Allspice berries

½ tsp black peppercorns

½ star anise

2 whole cloves

2 tsp (heaped) soft brown sugar

2 tsp butter

Method:

  • Place everything except brown sugar and butter into a saucepan and cook gently for 15 minutes.
  • Crush the blackberries with a potato masher, add brown sugar and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Pass the liquid through a fine sieve and return to the saucepan. Place over a low heat, add butter, swirl to melt and combine. Cook until reduced by half. The sauce should be glossy and coating, but not thick and sticky.
  • Spoon over duck breast and garnish with more fresh blackberries.

Catch up on Kate’s ‘A Year of Flavour’ series on the link below 'A Year in Flavour'.

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