September Dining

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September is one of those slightly strange months, one never knows quite what to expect in the weather department, one day might be distinctly autumnal when we are reaching for a jacket and lamenting the end of summer and the next we’ll once again be back in shorts and dining al fresco. September throws up the expected and unexpected in equal measures. And true to form the last three weeks have served up a totally mixed bag and kept us on our toes. Rain in the morning has given way to afternoon sunshine, stiff breezes which have sent the leaves scurrying around the garden have abated just as quickly as they came about giving way to a quiet calm. We’ve swum in the sea, sought shade from blistering heat, luxuriated in deliciously warm evenings where we have sat outside staring at the stars and at the other end of the scale we’ve closed the front door and welcomed a heartening soup.

But two things are almost certain, one is the light at this time of year is stupendous, a photographer’s delight in the garden, if only the garden didn’t look totally neglected thanks to all the afore-mentioned winds! The second is a glut of produce of some varieties in the potager. Grapes and tomatoes and figs, oh and did I mention figs and tomatoes and grapes and more and yet more to come.

The local markets are still full of local produce. Fruits and vegetables that are far from perfect and for me that’s a really heartening sight. Peaches that don’t remotely resemble the unnatural faultless specimens in the supermarkets, beetroot still covered in soil and blemished peppers. In other words Perfect imperfection.

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B037B3BB-1DAC-4878-83DC-32D3700EB2DFWe are gathering our tomatoes at an alarming rate, what we cannot eat in salads that day we are making into sauces and ratatouille for the freezer for the winter. Nothing complicated, sautéed onions and garlic, courgettes and aubergines and tomatoes all from the garden, some vegetable stock, olive oil, salt and pepper and a good handful of fresh rosemary.

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The figs are another story. This year I was determined we would not waste so many. We all eat to our maximum capacity every day! We give away box loads, but still poor Roddy is in the courtyard garden picking up the rotting fallen ones each morning. It sounds awful but there are just so many. I hate the waste, it goes against the grain, so in august, in preparation, I bought a dehydrator. I thought it would be an excellent way to make our own organic, totally natural dried fruits for the coming months. Keenly we read all the instructions and filled the trays with our selected fruits, cut in half. But it did not turn out at all how I imagined. In short it was a disaster, they just didn’t dry properly at all. So I’ve lent it to a friend who is experimenting also. We’ll meet up and discuss our results and next week I shall try again. But if you have any tips I’d love to hear them! Perhaps I should have just used our regular oven and if anyone has done that please do let me know, I’m so keen to succeed somehow!

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On those days when it is really warm we’ve leapt at the opportunity to dine alfresco, to invite some friends to join us and make the most of the last of these evenings until next year. A last minute impromptu invitation needs quick thinking. One of my favourite deserts is to make a pavlova. Because honestly, nothing could be easier.

Our hens are laying again so we have plenty of fresh eggs on hand. I whisk 4 Egg whites to a stiff peak. Add 8 ozs of sugar (interestingly here I use cane sugar not white sugar. It makes the meringue slightly darker but the taste is better). Spoon onto a baking sheet and make the sides higher and a dip in the middle like a dish. Bake at 140C/285F for about an hour. Fill with some whipped cream and whatever fresh fruits you have to hand. In this instance I used the last of our garden’s plums.

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There’s just nothing quite like starting a meal outside in daylight and slowly watching as the evening turns to dusk and then darkness.

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On the spur of the moment suppers like these seem to be quite a regular occurrence for us. There is certainly no time to spend hours laying perfect tables but I think this simplicity has a certain form of elegance all of its own.  I often use old French bottles, small ones no more than six inches tall, for a few cut flowers or some green leafy stems which can look just as pretty.

We always use our basic thick stemmed French duralex  wine glasses which are hard to knock over and thus relatively safe outdoors with bare feet and I am truly in love with our slabs of slate which make the best outdoor serving mats. We found these in the mountains in the Pyrenees a couple of years ago. Filthy dirty and soaking wet in the mud I put them in the back of the car knowing exactly what I would use them for.

Extra large hand woven mats faded from the sun, vintage silver cutlery and vintage hand embroidered napkins make up the table. A totally unique and individual setting, one that takes just a few minutes to pull together and yet one that I have not grown at all bored of all summer long and one which I hope will give you a few ideas.

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42 thoughts on “September Dining

  • Susan I love your posts about your garden to table dinners. They always sound so wonderful. Our weather here is also crazy in September just like yours. I am hoping to grow more veggies when we retire in the not so distant future!

    • Growing veggies is certainly one of those really great pleasures, last night I was picking raspberries, it is the first year we have grown them and it felt so fabulous to be standing there actually picking and eating our own. Something very special about it all, I am sure you will have lots of fun xx

  • Oh how I wish we could drop in for a visit! I LOVE your description of a table laid out, simply but graciously. Enjoy the “Indian summer” and squeeze every drop out of the lingering warmth. Much love.

  • Each week I make roasted figs (honey, brown sugar, cassis, lemon zest, and halved figs. Roast until desired consistency. Spoon over ginger shortbread and add a dollop of heavy cream. I can’t stand to waste figs, either!

    • I am going to try this, I’ve looked up a few recipes and also someone else sent me an email with some good ideas. Anything not to waste them and there are only so many we can eat during the day!! xx

  • Oh, Susan, I have so often wished that I had already made it over, but never so much as after reading your autumnal ramblings . . . . well, I would love to go to the markets first to pick out of that pile of gorgeous imperfect peppers at 2 1.2 euros a kilo (impossible to believe !) And I would adore to make passata with you out of all of those excess tomatoes . . . .and you have remembered your New Zealand days well with your very practical freeform pavlova . . . one of the very few desserts I do male and love . . . have never made it rectangular and still reach for strawberries and kiwifruit 🙂 ! Fun your way . . . . so wish I could find my genie, grab an armful of South or Western Australian whites and whizz over for one of those last evenings one could enjoy under the trees . . . ! And tho’ my IG is again on the blink I have picked up Gigi in her gorgeous new gear . . . my God, does that girl of yours have a forehand .. . . wow . . .

    • Somethings in France are super expensive and others are a great price! You should see the price of figs, so expensive and we cannot even give ours away we have so many! Anyway hoping we see you here before too long, you can see the girl in action in person and we can chat endlessly! xx

  • Oh Susan to have your bountiful harvest of free figs! Here in the states I pay $5.99 for 16oz container at Trader Joes’s! Alfresco dinners this time of year make for dreamy evenings and your outdoor dining looks so inviting. Thanks for a beautiful post!

  • I have tried to dry our figs also…
    Unless fruit is done with sulfur…they do not remain soft…one must cut them small enough that the dehydrator can work. It is important to have them be as even in size as possible and allow it to work…up to days.
    I have an apricot tree…same is true with those…just cutting in half for those will quite literally take days.
    Be sure to use Fruit Fresh…to help hold color..and be patient.
    We have found the fruit tends to be drier..crispy even…but flavor is good…
    We love using the dehydrator for tomatoes! Just be sure that the pieces are even and enjoy…we have ours in the garage as it does have to run sometimes for days to dehydrate correctly…
    It will take some practice…
    Nancy
    wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

    • Thanks for this Nancy, that explains why they were crispy and not at all like the ones I buy. I had not realised that figs are dried commercially with sulphur as well, I know that apricots are and I always try and buy the sulphur free ones. Now I shall try again with the figs! Thank you xx

  • I was just going to say what Nancy has written. I have no personal experience but I have two sisters who are very much into drying fruit and veggies. Sadly no figs, as they are far too expensive for such fun. But my sis who is drying tons of apples every year and bought a Dörrex, that’s the brand’s name for a fruit & veggie drying unit with several ‘layers’. She cuts her apples in very even rings, not too thick and dries them for the required time as per the handbook you get when buying an item. She then packs them in lovely little bags and makes them into beautiful, tasty, healthy snack gifts. Maybe you must slice up your figs into even slices, i think that’s the secret. But surely this is indicated in the ‘mode d’emploi’?
    Just read an old article on ‘slates’ on the table (by David Lebovitz). I would never buy them or only at a ridiculously low price. But I have used broken off pieces as bowl and hot pans holder – then they break one day and you go on to something else. I love my many different and also differently colourful place mats, my missmatched services (with rather largeish breakfast plates from a fancy hotel in TQ, brought over under a windbreaker jacket in the plane – still giggling at our friend’s courage and sheer stupidity, I’ve silver from the fleamarket and high end cutlery from Villeroy & Boch, cheap wine glasses (Ikea, they last amazingly forever while the ones from Auchan tend to get broken within days) – and always flowers on the table and everywhere. I like very much your sturdy wine glasses – they are never out of fashion and what’s important is what is in them….
    I’m terribly envious (in a good way) of your overkill of fab tomatoes. I just got a few organic ones from Brittany, not because I wanted organic ones, but because they were the only ones from France – this is so ridiculous (and very expensive, which is not right somehow either – it’s surely not the producers who get that well paid). Your market prices are a dream; we pay far, far more for it all. I do tend to spend much money on our food and wines, because to me it’s important to know what goes into our belly. But of course the best fare is always the one grown on one’s own land and garden – and yours is just gorgeous. The eggs!
    I look forward to maybe having more time to back-read your former posts – and hopefully to read more about your doings with tennis-farming-cooking-driving-fleamarketing-guest entertaining etc’ …. notwithstanding having 7 young dogs to care for! Much love to you all – kisses, too.

    • I love our slates, it’s funny when I saw them, in the mud I just knew what I wanted to do with them and we have used them every time we eat outdoors for two years non stop now. Plus they can be left outside in the rain, the wind, the sun, it makes no difference. Great finds! Everyone says our market prices are very good, I had no idea, so that’s a big positive. Last night I was picking our own raspberries in the garden, it is the first year we have grown them and it feels very decadent and quite fabulous!

      Our wine glasses have lasted years, good old French Duralit, I think we have only broken one in about 7 years! Not bad going.

      Hope we see you again soon xxx

      • Wd love to come again – but when….. Haven’t had any hols this year apart from our non-hols chez vous! (none of your fault, of course, as you well know!!!!).
        You have raspberries NOW? Are you sure? They normally grow somewhere around May/June…. they must be ultra-late ones. Hmmmm!

        • Oh yes quite sure, raspberries start around June and can go on until the beginning of November, even in the UK, very happily. Ours are an everlasting variety, they keep producing until the end of October at least, and producing very well I might add! It is very exciting, except when the kids are in the potager with me it’s tough to bring a bowl up to the house rather than eat them all in situ!

          • I can’t blame them. I did the same in the years we HAD any raspberries. The last years it was zero. Either they fouled on their twigs or never made it to ripeness due to weather conditions, snails/slugs or no longer feeling well in their place.

  • Susan, I use the oven to thin dry apple rings [for cheese platters]. My oven instructions say 50C on fan forced for fruit vegetables and herbs, but I find if I start the apples a bit higher then turn the oven down it doesn’t take so long. I use a pizza tray so the bottoms don’t get soggy.

  • Having just returned from France last week I can confirm that September was a mixed bag. The two weeks we spent in the Charente was hot, as soon as we left the weather cooled and it even rained.
    Our friends, who have to large fig trees, suffer the same dilema, what to do with all those figs? I don’t think they have found a solution yet, other than trying to eat as much as they can and give away a ton of figs to all their surrounding neighbours! Can’t wait for us to finally move over, and a fig tree in our new garden is now a requirement when we start looking for a home!

    • One of my requirements was a fig tree also. I remember when I saw ours, I was over the moon, a fig tree and a big prolific one at that!!! September was a mixed bag for sure, it went out rather well yesterday with a gorgeous warm sunny day, back in shorts and all the windows open. However October has started with wind and rain once more! xx

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