Crab for Burns Night

Burns Night has become quite the popular tradition.  A night of haggis and whisky and poetry that humbly began as nine friends who got together five years after Rabbie’s death for a dinner in his honour. They couldn’t have had any idea that over 200 years later it would be still be being celebrated each January 25th.

Partan Pie makes a good Burns Night starter (or a warming winter snack / supper on any chilly night). Partan is the Scottish word for crab. The Scottish coast – and particularly Fife – is reknowned for its fantastic crabbing. The ‘pie’ would traditionally have been made by extracting all the meat from the crab, doing some wonderful things to it to make it taste even better, and then piling the meat back into the crab shell to be cooked or grilled. This simpler version uses bought crab-meat and is made in a ramekin.

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Bowl Of Seville Oranges

Seville oranges

Bitter seville oranges are only in season for January and February yet their brevity has done nothing to diminish our love for these bright beauties. They were hugely popular in Britain for a good while before burgeoning trade links with the east brought their sweeter cousins over in the early 17th century. It is interesting to note that many of our traditional dishes which call for oranges probably originated not with sweet ones but with the sevilles.

I like to take advantage of how they cut through the intensity of red meats by adding a strip of their zest to beef or venison casseroles. Elizabeth David has a lovely recipe for partidge that’s pot-roasted with sliced Seville oranges, white wine and garlic. I almost – almost – hesitate to mention Duck a l’Orange. Does it still suffer from being a 1960s joke? Maybe. Maybe the laugh is on us for consigning it for so long to the ‘deary me, no’ recipe list. If you try this bigarade sauce (bigarade being the french name for Seville oranges) with some duck breasts you’ll see what I mean.

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Gourds and Pumpkins High Angle

Gorgeous gourds

October’s piles of pumpkins must be one of the prettiest sights of the season. Jack O’Lantern-carving fun aside I go in for eating the flesh as a spiced soup, mashed as a partner to some good meaty sausages or baked with orange zest and rosemary.

There’s pumpkin pie, too, which is mostly thought of as an American dish but – much like the carving of the lanterns – its heritage really lies with the other winter squashes that are the pumpkin’s British relatives. Like Norfolk’s old recipe for Million Pie – a pastry crust filled with the sweetened and spiced mash of one of the many other squashes that would have been around in the 16th century at this time of year.

Our modern grocers are happily getting better at offering up a wider variety of squashes again than just the old-faithful butternut and pumpkin. Keep an eye out for the glorious variety of shapes, sizes and colours that run the gamut of our gourds.

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Crab apple butter

Poor old crab apples. Autumn’s ugly sisters in need of just a little love and care to become all meltingly sweet and spicy and delicious.

These days crab apples are too often left to rot on the ground and all-too-seldom brought into the kitchen. But t’wasn’t ever thus. Crab apples used to prized for their tart flavour and acidity which is no good at all for eating the apples raw but can be put to great use as an ingredient.

They’re even better than eating apples for this ‘butter’. Which is really a sweetened, spiced, thick apple spread that’s very lovely on toast, crumpets, fruit buns or as a stand-by sauce for roast pork.

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This Kent tradition is a great way to use up any summer fruits still knocking about in the garden, fridge or freezer. With some of autumn’s finest fruits added too and layered up with brandy and sugar you’ll have a treat in store come Christmas.

The Hodgkin’s fruits can then be served with cream, ice-cream or meringues – and the muskily fruited brandy as a liqueur on the side.

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