Pick Of The Crop: Autumn

Fuel your mileage without racking up 'food miles' - go for Britain's freshest seasonal food


Posted: 17 September 2009
by Alice Palmer


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The "season of mellow fruitfulness" really lives up to its name, so make the most of Britain's autumnal bounty of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Gluts of autumn fruit and veg are packed with nutrients and right on your doorstep - which is great for the environment as well as your wallet. Together, they're the perfect recipe for healthy and hearty fuel for your increasing training load as the nights draw in.

Apples

Since the Romans brought the apple to the Britain, we've made this humble fruit our own. There are now over 1,200 native British varieties of apple, perfect for eating, cooking - or cider making. British apples are available nearly all year round, but they really shine in the autumn, with the impeccably timed arrival of cooking apples perfect for warming crumbles, pies or simple apple sauce.

Why? Apples are great for a quick-release energy boost. They're packed with dietary fibre, and tons of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C. Your hard-working cardiovascular system will also be thankful for the flavonoids found in apples, which help prevent heart disease.

Cook: Eating apples are, as their name suggests, ready to eat straight from the tree. Cooking varieties like Bramley apples are too tart, however, and need some time in an oven or pan. Peel and slice then squeeze lemon over the cut edges to prevent them from turning brown if you're not using immediately.

Try this: Autumn's cooking apple stocks are ideal for stuffing and baking whole, so why not add raisins and cinnamon for a sweet but healthy treat. Preheat an oven to 180ºC (Gas Mark 4). Core the apples so you have a small hole in each one, and run a knife through the skin around the middle of each apple. Pop the apples in an ovenproof dish and fill the hole with raisins before sprinkling cinnamon over the top. Roast for around 50 minutes, and allow to cool slightly before serving with custard, ice cream or honey. This is great with other autumn fruits like blackberries, cranberries or prunes.

Buy: Go for unblemished, firm-fleshed apples with no bruising or pockmarks on the skin.

Squashes

Among the many different squashes, perhaps the best suited to the season is the Halloween pumpkin. In season in Britain from October to December, with soft, sweet flesh that suits a whole range of cooking methods, squashes are the perfect comfort food for chilly days and longer nights.

Why? Squashes are high in carbs, but have a very low glycaemic load (GI) – making them the perfect slow-release fuel for endurance sport. They're a particularly good source of fibre, low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Squashes are also a good source of calcium – good news for runners, who endure a high level of impact through hard-working knee and hip joints.

Cook: Squashes are tough to prepare, but once you've got inside, they're gratifyingly easy to cook. Pare off the skin, cut into sections and then scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Then cut into chunks or wedges and roast (30-40 minutes) or boil (15-20 minutes).

Try this: Squash is a tasty addition to soups and stews, but it comes into its own as a side dish, boiled and mashed. Add a little grated nutmeg or butter for an indulgent alternative to mashed potato - with lower calories and GI rating.
Or scoop out the inside of a Halloween pumpkin and turn the vibrant flesh into soup or pumpkin pie.

Buy: For the best-tasting veg, make a beeline for squashes that are small and heavy for their size, with smooth and firm skin.


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Kale

A member of the cabbage family, kale comes in two forms: smooth-leafed kale, and curly kale with its distinctive crinkly leaves. Curly kale is the most common of the two, and flourishes in Britain from October onwards. With a strong, rich flavour and glossy dark green leaves, kale is an attractive and nutrient-packed autumn veg.

Why? Kale is one of the richest veggie sources of calcium, a good way for runners to maintain strong bones. As well as being packed with vital minerals like iron, magnesium and potassium, kale also contains 17 times more vitamin C than carrots and four times more than spinach.

Cook: Kale is versatile and easy to cook, making it the perfect ingredient when you're whipping up a post-run recovery meal. Sold in ready-prepared packs, it can be boiled, stir fried, sautéed or added to soups and omelettes. When preparing kale, break the leaves off from the stalk and trim away the tough centre stalk.

Try this: Pasta with kale, chilli and tomato. In separate pans, boil pasta and kale for ten minutes, and then drain. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry chopped onion, bacon and 1-2 tsp chilli powder for five minutes. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the kale and pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.

Buy: Opt for smaller heads of kale, which have younger, more tender leaves. Make sure you pick kale with crispy, bright leaves.

Mussels

Once seen as the poor relation of the shellfish family because of their small size and relative abundance, mussels are a cheap and delicious bistro staple. The most common Blue or European mussels have sleek, shiny shells and tender, nutritious flesh. The peak season for fresh mussels starts in October, with most British mussels supplied by farms to avoid contamination from polluted seawater.

Why? For quick-cooking post-run protein with a difference, mussels are classy, deceptively easy to prepare and relatively cheap. They're packed with muscle-building protein as well as vital minerals including iron, folate, zinc and vitamin C.

Cook: Don't let food poisoning spoil your next session – before you start cooking, check all the mussels are closed, and give any that are open a sharp tap with a knife. If they fail to close, or float to the top when you're cleaning them, discard before boiling. Scrub the mussels in cold water to remove barnacles and remove the 'beard' of fibrous hairs. Place cleaned mussels in a fresh bowl of cold water until ready to use.

Try this: Don't let the French have all the fun. Try moules marinieres, Brit style - cook mussels in delicious West Country cider for a taste of the English coast. Pop 500g mussels per person, plus cider, some butter and a crushed garlic clove in a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook until the mussels start to open. Drain the mussels and place to one side. Reduce the remaining cooking liquid by half, and add some cream, pepper and chopped parsley. Return the mussels to the pan to mix, and then serve immediately with thick wedges of fresh bread.

Buy: You can buy mussels in their shells year-round in most supermarket chiller sections. When picking fresh mussels, avoid shellfish with chipped, broken or damaged shells, and eat the mussels the day you buy them.


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Root vegetables

The autumn months provide a bumper crop of British root veg, with swedes, sweet potato, turnips, parsnip and celeriac all nutritious, tasty and great cooked together or on their own.

Why? They may be packed with carbs, but their high fibre content make them a great source of low-GI, slow-release energy. These veggies are also satisfyingly sweet, low in saturated fat and cholesterol and packed with vitamins and minerals.

Cook: Wash root veg to remove any loose dirt, before getting to work with a large sharp knife to prepare it for cooking. Slice off the top and bottom, and then peel and cut into chunks. Root vegetables can disintegrate if overcooked, so always keep an eye on the pan and stick to cooking times.

Try this: Root veg is a great addition to soups and stews – boil a mixture of vegetables with onions, chickpeas and a dash of honey and crushed chilli and then blend to make a tasty, warming soup that's a perfect post-run lunch. A mixture of roasted root vegetable wedges also makes for a great side dish for roast dinners.

Buy: Look for small, sweet vegetables with smooth, unblemished skin. Celeriac can contain hollow pockets, so choose ones that feel heavy for their size.

Plums, damsons and gages

Plums grown in Britain today are the descendents of fruit brought from ancient Damascus, Syria and Persia. Along with their close relations damsons and gages, they have flourished in Britain's temperate climate and varieties of these fruits can be found all over the UK as autumn approaches.

Why? Plums are high in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in calories – making them perfect fuel for running. Plums are also free of cholesterol, and packed with vitamin C, calcium and fibre. A substance in plum skin stimulates bowel movement, so peel your fruit to avoid a nasty dose of 'runner's trots'.

Cook: Plums are tasty straight from the tree, but damsons and gages have sharp-tasting flesh, which is indigestible when raw. However, a little cooking transforms this fruit into delicious jam, chutneys, pies and puddings.

Try this: Soften plums over the hob for a sweet fruity pudding. Halve the plums and pull out the stone. Cook in a pan with a little water and sugar or honey until tender but not falling apart. Serve as it is with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, or blitz in a blender to make puree. Swirl plum puree through Greek yoghurt or add to granola or porridge for an indulgent but vitamin-packed breakfast.

Buy: Be on the lookout for smooth, shiny skin. Press the fruit with your thumb to make sure the plum's flesh is ripe but not mushy.

 


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