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What is Harvest Festival and most importantly…what’s good to eat in Autumn?

13th October 2016

Celebrating harvest festival in Britain today is all about sharing food with your community or raising money for charity, however it didn’t begin this way. 

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Farmdrop blogger Susan (aka me) loves a good ol’ fashioned vegetable balancing act.

Forget canned tins of soup and packets of powdered dessert, Harvest Festival began in Britain’s fields full of crops in need harvesting after the fertile summer. Originally a pagan festival celebrated on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon, (that is, the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumn equinox on the 22 or 23 September) it signified when farmers brought in the harvest and the modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843. Its name derives from the Old English word ‘Haerfest’ meaning ‘Autumn’ and festivities included music, dancing, singing hymns and decorating churches with produce. Bringing in the harvest was an activity the whole family would literally pitch in on lives depended on its success, and it all ended in huge feast.

This year’s full moon was on the 16th September, however these days celebrations continue well into October – after all, with plenty of bountiful produce around it would be rude not to. As one of the most beautiful and diverse seasons (officially ranging from mid-September to mid-December) here are our top picks of what to eat this season for a proper celebration of Autumn.

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These Santana Apples are grown in Kent at Chegworth Valley farm. Not named after the band.

Apples

Did you know there are over a staggering 7,500 known varieties of apple? You’ll have to look beyond supermarket shelves to get your hands on some of these flavourful, juicy and playfully named British beauties, such as Santana or Crimson Crisp. A true Autumn staple and one that should be enjoyed effortlessly, (be it whole, in a pie, or baked in a crumble with a generous serving of piping hot custard) the end of the summer always means it’s time to grab those oven gloves and bake the season’s apple bounty.

Why are apples good for me?

The saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ isn’t one to be ignored! Packed with fibre, one large apple contains about 5g of the good stuff, that’s about 17% of what’s recommended a day. Don’t peel it if you can help it because a big chunk of an apple’s fibre is just under it’s skin and also stored in there is a lot of its antioxidant boosting Vitamin C.

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Harlequin Squash has one of the best veg names out there.

Squash

Divine when roasted and their natural sugars go a little caramelly, its lovely intense yellowy-amber colour indicates the presence of ‘pre-vitamin’ carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments). Beta-carotene is converted to immune-supportive Vitamin A in the body and a 100g serving of butternut squash contains 605µg (micrograms), which is about 150% of what you should be aiming for in a day. Vitamin A has many important functions including its role in the visual cycle, doing good stuff for your eyes.

How do I prepare squash, pumpkins and gourds?

Coming in an eye-boggling array of shapes, colours and sizes, they all have a tougher outer skin and an inner cavity filled with seeds. Carve it up into chunks, drizzle over olive oil and seasoning and roast in a hot oven at 180°C until softened. The timing depends on the size of your squash, but usually around 45 mins to an hour will do. The seeds from pumpkins also make a mighty moreish snack and are extremely easy to prepare. Simply scoop out the seeds, place in a single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle over olive oil and seasoning and roast at 180°C, for 10-15mins until golden. Trust us, this little prep is worth it.

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These talon-like luscious leaves are Cavolo Nero Kale growing at Purton House Organics.

Kale

If there’s one vegetable that has received a lot of good press over the last few years it’s kale. Why? Simply because it’s an absolute powerhouse of nutrition, all wrapped up its deliciously dark green leaves. In fact, its dark green colourings are great indicators of its nutritional value. It’s also one of the few green vegetables that’s abundant in the cold winter months.

Why is kale good for me?

Kale is packed with a massive range of vitamins, but particular ones to highlight are Vitamins K, A & C. Most leafy greens contain high levels of Vitamin K and kale is no exception – containing 623 µg per 100g. The main function of Vitamin K in the body is its role in blood clotting (it’s really important for mending cuts). The amount of Vitamin K you need is related to your body weight. A 100g portion of Kale contains 830% of the daily recommendation for the average male! Kale also contains particularly high levels of Vitamin C, averaging at 110mg per 100g equating to 275% of your recommended allowance. Like squash, kale contains a load of Vitamin A too!

Vitamin C fun fact: Did you know Vitamin C is synthesised by every mammal except primates, guinea pigs and some fruit bats? Badda bing.

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Farmer Alex at Purton House Organics harvesting the knobbly root vegetable celeriac.

Celeriac

It does look a bit like an alien, but once you get past its knobbly bobbly outside, the inner beauty of celeriac’s ivory insides is soon revealed. Also known as root-celery, it is a closely related variety of common leaf celery and has a touch of celery and aniseed in flavour. Low in calories, it’s a also great source of Vitamin K. A 100 g root provides around 41µg or 34% of recommended daily intake (not quite as much as super-kale but still going pretty strong!).

How do I prepare celeriac?

Use a sharp knife to take the top and bottom off the root, followed by using a potato peeler to remove its tough skin. Expect to remove about a quarter of the whole vegetable by the time you’re done! Cut it into chunks and it’ll boil in about 20 minutes, or roast in 40 minutes. Celeriac makes a great nutty alternative to potatoes and works a treat in mash atop a fish pie.

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Kent Blackberries from Chegworth Valley (sadly the season has just finished for farmers David and Janet, but have a rummage in your hedgerow).

Blackberries

As seasonal fruits go, blackberries really sing Autumn. These gems have sadly just finished in our farmer’s fields but you also can’t get more local than looking out for them in your own hedgerow. Also known as bramble, rubus fruticosus (its Latin name) are a dream when paired in a hot pie with new season apples for a dangerously delicious dessert. This make-you-weak-at-the-knees yet delightfully simple combo really lives up to the adage ‘what grows together goes together’. Have you ever wondered what lies within this little dark flavoursome berry?

Why are blackberries good for me?

Stuffed full of antioxidants, including vitamin C and ellagic acid, and anthocyanins, these are what cause their luscious dark black-purple colour that we know and love about this berry. New research is taking place into the potential health benefits of this colourant, including potential protective effects against cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention and improvements in cognition. Keep them going all year round by freezing them whole or cooking them up into a jam or a cordial.

Discover the latest seasonal fruit and vegetables to hit the shop!

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