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