September can be an ambiguous, anxious month, as we try to enjoy any late summer sun while bracing our self or the darkening chill not far away.
Kale, similar to its sibling cabbage, can be grown and harvested year round. It’s a little backwards though in that with the first frosts later in the month its leaves become sweeter and more tender. It will then provide comfort during the shortening days and biting winds. Delicious with barley slow cooked in a light broth, or on top of sloppy butter beans on toast and the last of the summer’s fennel with a healthy splash of rapeseed oil.
A Soup for late September:
Haddock, Clams, Kale and Leek
The first young leeks of the season will also be cropping up late September.
The clams (or cockles) will need a good wash. If you’ve picked them yourself, about an eight hour bathe in cold, clean, salted water. Either way it’s important to go through them, hunting out any that have broken shells or are open and don’t close shut when tapped.
They’ll also need to be cooked separately so as not to take any risks with the grit. Pop them into a hot pan with a knob of butter, salt and a little wine or water. Let them steam with the lid on and the occasional shake of the pan. It’s very important not to overcook the clams as they’ll quickly turn rubbery – they’re happy enough a little under cooked. If they’re small then they shouldn’t need much longer than two minutes. When done scoop them out with a slotted spoon and then strain the remaining liquor through a fine sieve or clean cloth, so ridding it of any loitering grit. Take half of the clams out of their shells (which you can add to the stock).
The broth can be made with the heads, bones and skin of your haddock but it’s worth asking your fish monger for some more (from any white fish) so you can make a big batch. It’s important they’re fresh (from the freezer is kosher, as long as they were fresh when frozen), if not, the best you can hope for is a muted stock. Often when fish on the bone is on the old side but ok, its carcasses are not. Let your nose be your guide.
Give it all a good rinse under cold running water. Slice – as finely as you can – some onions, celery, fennel, garlic and parsley stalks. Into a hot pan; some oil, a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Then chuck in the fish bones (and a few of the washed clams). A bash and a couple of stirs and then fill up with water. Bring to boiling point and then simmer slowly for half an hour, then let it begin to cool for half an hour in the pot, then strain. Be a master of your hob – if it breaks into a rolling boil it’ll likely become chalky and bitter. It’s ready for action now, though I often tend to reduce it just a little bit.
Cut your leeks in half lengthwise and then slice them up at half-inch lengths.
Peel the waxy potatoes (unless they are young and the skin tender) and cut into thumb sized wedges. Wash the kale, chuck the stalks and chop the leaves to a similar size as the leeks and spuds. Slice the haddock into hearty sized pieces and sprinkle them all over with some salt ten minutes or so before you add them to the soup.
Heat some oil in a pan with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, a couple of slivers of lemon zest and a bay leaf and a wodge of thyme stalks.
When hot add the leaks, then the potatoes. Season and stir over a medium heat for a minute or two. Then add your stock. Simmer for a couple of minutes and then add the kale leaves, washed and chopped. If the kale seems pretty tough then best to add it with the potatoes. When the kale and potatoes aren’t far off add the haddock.
Keep the soup at just below a simmer. Keep a close eye on the haddock, when they are almost tender through pop in the clams and their liquor. Check the seasoning, bring it back up to heat and serve with foaming butter and grinds of black pepper.
(If you’re not confident about the freshness of your fish and your stock isn’t singing then it might be best to bulk up the flavours a little. Some fennel seeds, celery seeds, and crushed cherry tomatoes can be added with the leeks and a splash of white wine before you add the stock)
A weekend in, behind the stove isn’t a prospect many may consider. So much of summer’s bounty though spills right into September – damsons, blackberries, courgettes, green beans…with the lean months ahead of us there’s no better time to be preserving.
With elderflowers in abundance in early summer their berries are now triumphant in the dying days of the season. Pick them quickly before the sparrows get their beaks on them – they’ll likely be gone by the second half of September. This sweet vinegar will be especially handsome alongside game and smoked meats. It also makes a fine beverage, with a glass of ice cold tonic or with a mug of boiling water before bed to settle.
Lightly crush your stemmed berries and cover with cider vinegar. Let steep for four to five days, stirring once or twice a day. Then strain, with a little encouragement, through a fine sieve, muslin or a clean tea towel.
Then, over a low heat stir in some caster sugar until dissolved – 450gs to every 600gms of vinegar. This will help preserve the vinegar and help the elderness to shine. Washed out naggins and cork screws work a treat for bottling.
Runner Bean Chutney
Avoid the over grown, stringy runners and those that are wilting and wallowing. They are at their best they are fairly young, they’ll be a perky green, snap like crackling and have a juicy interior that’s a joy to eat raw.
For two pounds of runners I used a handful of demerara sugar and half a cup of cider vinegar.
Boil the runners in lots of salted water, drain them and shock them under a cold running tap while they’ve still half a bite to them. Let them dry, wrapped in a tea towel in the fridge. Then top but don’t tail them and cut then at a bias into inch or so lengths.
Bring the cider vinegar slowly to the boil in a pan with lots of mustard seeds and a bunch of mint. Turn off the heat and let it come slowly back to room temperature then strain.
Cut some spring onions into thin wedges and fry in a heavy pot, gently in olive oil, with a little finely sliced lemon rind. Raise the heat and add the beans and stir. Soon pour in the vinegar and then the sugar. Find a steady heat that lets the vinegar bubble gently away. Keep stirring on occasion and patiently wait for it all to become chutney-ish: the vinegar reduced and binding everything together – about half an hour. Taste it, it will probably need a wee pinch of salt, and some toasted poppy seeds (much less than you’d imagine, I think – they seem to multiply and are best enjoyed in the background.)
Jar it and it’ll be best if left to hang out for a month or so before opening.
Some of the sweet summer beetroot is still knocking about, but the young autumn beetroot will be just right for the job. (Keep aside the delicious stalks. Maybe try boiling them until tender then frying them quickly in olive oil and parsley and serving with goats cheese and sherry vinegar)
I couldn’t say how well this wine will age. Certainly it will all be good for this years Christmas though. Maybe try some hot with spices and gin, or else as is, either way enjoy watching each others gnashers change colour, the mouth becoming a deep, dark purple cave.
3 ½ litres water
800 gm unrefined caster sugar
1 ½ kilos of beetroot
Half a sachet of wine yeast (http://thehomebrewcompany.ie)
Measurements should work out right to store in a five litre water
Scrub your beetroot and then slice thin with the skins still on. Put them in a pot with the water and some orange and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and simmer until completely tender. Strain on to sugar and stir until dissolved. Add a sachet of yeast
Activate the yeast in some warmed water and a pinch of sugar.
Stir in the yeast once the liquor has cooled.
Funnel everything into your container, seal, and punch a thin whole in the lid.
Rap the bottle up in any spare blankets and put it in a dark, warm room.
It should be ready in about two to three weeks. When the bubbles have stopped rising, and the sweetness has all but gone (taste through a straw), it will be time to strain and bottle.
Image by Fiona Hallinan