Easing out of summer

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Nigel Slater says goodbye to summer with glorious dishes of cauliflower and late berries.

There is always much stretching to reach the high-grown berries, the arching branches whose fruits have been caught by the early autumn sun. The price you pay is being scratched by the brambles’ thorns that not only tear at your skin but refuse to let go. You arrive home, tiny beads of blood on your arms and legs, but with a bag of tart berries to add to an apple pie — perhaps the most nostalgia-inducing recipe of all time — or to add to the roasting juices of a pork loin, baked field mushrooms the size of side plates, or to pickle with red wine vinegar and peppercorns.

This autumn I used my berry haul for overnight oats, adding them to the soaked cereal, cinnamon and apple juice the following morning, along with yoghurt and a coarsely grated sharp apple. The berries also make a glossy, softly textured jam. I put a few spoonfuls of last year’s batch to use as the topping for a baked berry pudding — like a steamed pudding, but cooked in the oven — a little pile of berries spooned into the baking tins before smoothing the cake batter over the top.

The next couple of months are going to be glowing with pumpkins and autumn squashes, so I am looking elsewhere for cosy soups to edge me into the cooler weather. The cauliflowers were splendid this week, great creamy curds with their tiny pointed leaves intact. I brought one home for soup, and then a tiny Romanesco, its florets like fairytale castles, and cooked them lightly, tossed them in lemon juice, introducing the florets at the end, as a contrast to the ivory-coloured soup.

Cauliflower and kefir soup 

A gentle, calming soup. You could use cream in place of the kefir, but you risk smothering the flavour of the cauliflower. The acid notes of kefir or yoghurt will lift the soup’s spirits. It is essential not to let it boil once the kefir or yoghurt has been stirred in as it may curdle. If your cauliflower comes with perky leaves, I suggest you cook them very briefly in boiling water and tuck them in just before you serve the soup.

Enough for 4

2 medium onions

50g butter

1 medium (750g) cauliflower

3 bay leaves

6 thyme sprigs

1 litre vegetable stock

To finish

a handful of cauliflower florets

a little lemon juice

100ml thick kefir or natural yoghurt

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Melt the butter in a large pan, then stir in the onions and let them cook for about 15 minutes. You need them to be soft and translucent, but not coloured.

Break the cauliflower into large florets and add to the onions. (I always include the cauliflower stalks, but not the leaves.) Drop in the bay leaves and the sprigs of thyme and cook for a further 4 or 5 minutes, then pour in the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.

When the stock boils, lower the heat to a simmer and season with salt. Leave to simmer for about 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft.

To finish the soup, boil a handful of cauliflower or Romanesco florets for a couple of minutes, then drain and toss with just enough lemon juice to moisten them.

Remove the thyme and bay, then process the soup with either a stick blender or in a blender jug (taking care not to overfill it). Stir in the kefir, or yoghurt, and warm the soup gently, stirring and without letting it boil.

Ladle into bowls, then add the whole cauliflower florets and, if you have them, a few cauliflower leaves.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Spiced blackberry puddings

I use small, metal 200ml pudding basins — the sort you might use for a steamed pud. Alternatives are heatproof china ramekins or large, ovenproof cups. I made these with blackberries and blackberry jam, but blackcurrant or plum jam is another possibility. Avoid strawberry and raspberry, which are rather too sweet for this.

A jug of cream will be welcome, but thick yoghurt is good for those who like something less rich. A jug of melted blackberry jam is pleasing, too.

Makes 4 individual puddings

100g caster sugar

100g butter plus a little for the tins

2 eggs

100g self-raising flour

½ tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground ginger

6 Tbsp blackberry jam

16 blackberries

Prepare the tins: rub a little butter around the insides of the tins and put them on a baking tray. Set the oven at 180°C.

Put the caster sugar and butter in a food mixer and beat until pale and thick. Break the eggs in a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork to mix yolks and whites, then pour into the butter and sugar a little at time, mixing continuously.

Sift the flour with the mixed spice and ground ginger then, with the mixer still turning, incorporate into the butter and sugar mixture.

Divide the jam and blackberries between the pudding basins, then spoon in the sponge mixture and gently smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes until the top is golden, checking the puddings with a skewer to make sure they are cooked right through (a little dampness is good, but there should be no raw cake mixture on the skewer). Run a small palette knife around the edge of each pudding to loosen it from the tin, then shake it gently out on to a dish.

Serve with a jug of cream.