Few months come so resplendent with seasonal produce as October. While showy pumpkins may grab the attention, salsify, beetroot and kale too grow in abundance, not to mention the ranks of wild mushrooms rising from forest and field, while game favourites such as pheasant and partridge make a welcome return to the table.
From the sea, mackerel fresh from spawning in cold northern waters are at their fattiest and tastiest, while the humble mussel also bursts with flavour. From the tree, boughs hang with apples, pears and plums, and of course, nuts.
There are five edible nuts that grow in the UK but only three are worth the bother: hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts (acorns and beech nuts, known as ‘mast’, are too bitter with tannins and best reserved for fattening livestock). Packed with protein, fibre and essential fats, nuts are one of this season's healthiest and most satisfying offerings. Not only do nuts provide valuable vitamins and minerals, they also bring alive all the other seasonal ingredients mentioned, offering a wealth of dishes for the darkening days of autumn.
For those too short of time to forage but still ready to create delicious dishes brought alive with the addition of nuts, Maws provide a profusion all year round, which you’ll find ready to use whole or halved, blanched or roasted, flaked, ground and pureed.
Being a favourite amongst foresters and farmers for planting as coppice and hedgerow means you can find hazel trees the breadth of the British Isles. However thanks to their even greater popularity with the indigenous wildlife you’ll be hard pressed to get your hands on hazelnuts in the wild.
These sweet and creamy nuts develop an even richer, mellower flavour once roasted, and are also a great source of folate, which plays a key role in keeping homocysteine, an amino acid associated with heart problems, at normal levels.
They’re also one of the key ingredients in praline, and as such have been used by confectioners since the 17th century, however hazelnuts also add fantastic flavour to savoury dishes. When processed to a paste with lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan and flat leaf parsley they make a fine alternative pesto, are a delicious accompaniment to roasted cauliflower, and combined with blanched green beans, peeled orange segments and beetroot wedge, create a superb winter salad.
Maws offer hazelnuts whole, blanched, ground and nibbed to between 2mm and 4mm.
By far the nut with the lowest fat and calories, chestnuts are rich in starchy carbs and fibre, and in their raw form are a good source of vitamin C. Ground chestnut flour has also fast become a popular gluten-free alternative for baking. The mild flavour of chestnuts make them a favourite for use in both sweet and savoury dishes, and they become buttery and even sweeter once roasted.
Pureed into ‘crème de marron’, or candied to make ‘marron glace’, chestnuts have long played their part in classic French patisserie, yet you’ll find them equally mouth-watering, tossed with sprouts and bacon, or arranged around guinea fowl alongside wild mushrooms, lemon and bay leaves for a roast with a delicious autumnal twist.
Chestnuts also marry perfectly with another of autumn’s biggest stars, the pumpkin. Blitz them together, along with nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and stock for the ultimate seasonal soup.
Maws offer chestnuts vacuum packed whole and as puree (natural or sweetened).
Originating in south-east Europe and south-west China, walnuts are not strictly native to the UK but, having been introduced by the Romans, have become a long established part of the British woodland landscape.
In terms of health benefits walnuts really do deserve ‘super food’ status. Their antioxidant content helps prevent and delay cell damage. They're also a good source of mono-unsaturated, heart-friendly fats, and being rich in omega-3, makes them a great alternative for those who don’t eat oily fish.
Walnuts are a stalwart of cakes and bakes, and a sumptuous coffee and walnut cake tops many people’s list of all-time favourites. They add an extra dimension to banana bread, make wonderfully original flapjacks when paired with orange zest, and a traditional apple, pear and walnut crumble has to be a front-runner for autumn’s essential dessert.
On the savoury score, walnuts are the perfect accompaniment to blue cheese, and make a truly rib-sticking seasonal pasta dish when combined with roasted squash, ricotta and sage and stuffed into cannelloni and baked gently in the oven.
Maws offer walnut pieces, walnuts halved, or whole and roasted.