Country diary: The fruits of autumn are in abundance

Rowan berries are delicious cooked with apples.
Rowan berries are delicious cooked with apples.

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has arrived in splendour. Siberian crab apples hang in profusion and scintillating colour beside Hackness Road near the Rosette Inn just north of Scarborough.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash trees that flowered in May and June, now bear fruit into November and beyond. Those glowing, scarlett berries look good enough to eat. They are – after cooking!

They’re best picked now whilst in full colour but not when mushy. We sampled them for the first time with stewed apples.

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Cut about five clusters of rowan berries from the tree. Eradicate the stalks by ‘combing’ off the berries with a fork into a bowl. Rinse, and drain before adding them to the apples. Add sugar to taste, and scarcely any water. Simmer gently until the apples and berries are soft. Use as a filling for pies; tarts; crumbles, or just stewed with added custard or cream.

Foraging is fun during autumn, but be swift in catching opportune moments, before it’s too late. Remember those sprays of fragrant, frothy white elder flowers at the end of June? Now the pendant boughs are laden with juicy black elderberries. The fruits are relished by birds, but rarely by humans. It’s possibly because of their rather cloying taste when raw. What have you missed? They’re simply superb when cooked, and may even rival blackberries. Having no prickly, tangled clumps of vegetation to negotiate, picking the rip berries is no problem. Simply pick several bunches of elderberries in less than a minute!

Take them home to wash, before stripping the fruit from the stems with a fork. Let the berries fall into a pan. Add sugar to taste, and stew gently with very little water. We had them stewed with finely-sliced apples. They were then placed in an oven-proof dish and covered with Victoria sponge mixture. Cooked in a hot oven for half an hour or so, the result was superb.

The trophy of the week was possibly a giant puffball. It was found quite unexpectedly on grassland near a hedge. It measured 24.5 inches (ie 62cm) in circumference, had a diameter of nine inches (ie 23cm) and weighed one and a half pounds (ie 680g).

Easily recognised by its white, smooth and leathery skin, this large, spherical fungus grows straigth from the ground. Puffballs are one of the best fungi for flavour. Every part is solid, edible flesh, providing you eat it before the skin turns yellowish-brown and dissolved into a dust-like ‘smoke’, consisting of the reproductive spores.

To cook, just slice the puffball into steaks about half an inch thick. Fry in bacon fat, or other, until golden brown on both sides. Add a touch and salt and pepper – and enjoy!

“Woof,” replied Tigga in agreement!