This is the best time of the year for Irish produce. Photo: Markus Spiske

Enjoying autumn’s rich bounty

It is safe to say that autumn has arrived on our shores. I love this season (as I love any other) with its abundance of fruit and vegetables.

It is also the busiest time for farmers – the large machinery that goes up and down my road is always a good indicator. When you go to farmers’ markets these days you will see plump beetroots, tart apples, peppery radishes, tender leeks and the first parsnips are showing up on the stalls and shelves.

Now is the best time to buy Irish produce, grown outdoors in rich soil and drizzled with our beautiful rain – not in tunnels under artificial light.

Autumn is also the time we all return to cooking heartier dishes like soups, stews and roasts. I am busy making preserves like rhubarb relish, spiced plum chutney and carrot relish – jarred and labelled, ready to be enjoyed in a few months with cheese and cold meats. Some of them make it into gift baskets for friends when the festive season arrives. Wine has changed from white to red and ice cream has been replaced by cookies.

Don’t you just love the rich colours of this season? Yes, the evenings are getting longer but I rather love that as well.

My friend Agnes is a very talented gardener and her kitchen garden is an envy not only for me but anyone who would love to grow their own food. Last time I saw her I got gifted beetroot, tomatoes and carrots – oh the flavours of fresh out of the ground vegetables is second to none.

Beetroot and carrots were made into a delicious fresh salad with just orange and lime juice as a dressing while the tomatoes were eaten with West Cork mozzarella and a pesto dressing.

I am not as talented as my friend in growing vast amounts of vegetables. We have apple, pear and plum trees, redcurrant bushes and a very good herb garden which has plants like lemon verbena, oregano, majoram, rosemary and other delights that make cooking a doodle but this year we weren’t successful growing tomatoes or peppers.

So, what makes a good kitchen gardener? Firstly, I think it’s discipline. Agnes works hard in her garden – although she loves it.

Bad weather doesn’t stop her from going out and attacking these pesty weeds and slugs. She is prepared, has her seeds ready to go and knows exactly what she wants to grow. She also grows in stages, meaning that she sets out seeds at different times, so that she won’t be overwhelmed by a glut of produce she won’t be able to eat at once.

And she is tidy – oh so tidy. When I see her polytunnel, I want to move in! I’d place a comfy chair in it, grab a book and just pick some fresh peas and spend a whole day in there surrounded by growing greens.

I am not the tidiest of gardeners and no one can ever accuse Mr T of being tidy but I like to think that I start next year – isn’t it always next year?

Thinking of gardening actually reminds me of a kitchen gardening course I did in my garden with the fabulous Kitty Scully who many might still remember from RTE’s ‘How to grow a garden’ – yeah, even she would have her work cut out this time around!