Jasmine Hemsley portrait

Seasonal Food Focus for Autumn

Jasmine Hemsley shares the story of the harvest festival and her list of seasonal fruit and vegetables for Autumn.

Historically, seasonal eating was the only way of eating, since we had no way of importing fresh foods from abroad. Not only was it the only option, it was also celebrated. In Britain, we held harvest festivals to mark the Harvest Moon, i.e. the full moon closest to the autumn equinox – the time of year when all the summer crops were harvested. Without modern technology, nature was the only indicator, so people read the earth, moon and stars. These festivals were massive celebrations, alive with song, dance and contests a-plenty. They were also a way of appreciating and connecting on a deep level with our food, the food that becomes a part of us.

Autumn is also a time to take stock and stock up (just like the squirrels!), and to tune in to our bodies after the fun of summer by slowing down and ‘going back to school’ with rhythmical rituals to enhance our day-to-day. The rituals of cooking and eating can be enhanced by eating seasonally and frequenting farmers markets, where you can cut out the middleman and meet the farmers growing your food.

Apart from the short window of asparagus in spring and the appearance of new potatoes or cherries and figs in peak summer, the standard fresh fruit and veg we consume has limited us. We see the same varieties of courgettes, apples and lettuce all year round – foods that have been chosen for mass production and shelf-life appearance rather than because they are part of natural growth. We essentially never get to notice the seasons unless it comes in the form of plastic, cheap, garish advertising for Easter, Halloween and Christmas! Our connection evolves around consumerism rather than nature – however, celebrating diverse varieties of foods means diverse benefits not only for the planet and our soils, but also for our guts.

Disease on a mental, physical and spiritual level can be a result of not being in sync with the environment around us. In the same way we talk about ‘vibing’ with someone or something, meaning being in a harmony; in a flow; in a rhythm. Eating ice cream on a snowy day (in my other half’s family it’s a tradition on boxing day to have an ice cream after a long beach walk while bracing the weather) is a novelty, a thrill, and makes us feel alive, but we recognise that that isn’t what we always want in cold weather – hence the lack of ice cream vans! In complete contrast, ice cream is a symbol of summer – the masses descend on supermarkets across the country to buy anything that helps them to cool off.

Traditions and rituals that might seem old fashioned or irrelevant are there to remind us that we’re human; to keep us connected. They help us to realise that we are part of the ebb and flow of a bigger organism. Without these rituals we can feel uprooted.

Autumn is a wonderful time for sourcing ingredients. The last of juicy sun-drenched fruit and veg come in September, followed by earthier autumnal favourites like beetroot, pears and squash. So think about your transitional food – baked fruit crumbles, sun-warmed figs, beetroot risottos, trays of roasted veggies, griddled vegetable salads, blackberry jams, cranberry sauce, griddled lettuce wedges…

SEASONAL FRUIT: apples; apricots; blackberries; blueberries; chestnuts; cranberries; figs; grapes; horseradish; loganberries; melons; nectarines; peaches; pears; plums; raspberries; redcurrants; tomatoes

SEASONAL VEGETABLES: artichokes; aubergines; beans (broad, runner, green..); beetroot; broccoli; cabbage; carrots; cauliflower; celeriac; celery; chicory; courgette; cucumber; endive; fennel; kale; leeks; lettuce; mushrooms; pak choi; peas; pepper; potatoes; pumpkin; radicchio; radish; rocket; spinach; spring onion; squash; sweetcorn; Swiss chard; turnips; watercress

Now you know which fruit and vegetables are in season, try my seasonal beetroot risotto recipe or warming kitchari recipe.