The tree leaves are mostly gone, the ground is sodden and the sky heavy, but it is still warm. I find myself impatient for winter. November brings a dull light which keeps crops alive but without vigour, like the last of the fat, dozy flies lingering in the warmth inside my window; the game is definitely over, but death hasn’t quite arrived. Over the years, I have become less convinced of the wisdom of stretching the seasons of summer crops, particularly at the back end. A lot of effort goes into producing low yields which lack vigour, frequently succumb to pest and disease, and often disappoint in the kitchen. Better to let summer go; bring on the first frost, and roasts and stews aplenty.
Radicchio is the culinary highlight in a dull month; so handsome in scarlet and white, with a bitter brightness that restores my vigour. The last of the lettuces are usually a disappointment as light levels drop, but radicchio is from different stock. Descended from dandelions, which thrive in the partial shade of broken deciduous woodland, the dim, damp November weather only adds to its sweetness and succulence. The Italians have many different types of radicchio, with regional recipes to match, and will assert with total conviction that theirs is the only one worth eating. We grow Treviso (shaped like a Cos lettuce), and the more solid and winter hardy Chioggia (shaped like a cannonball). Enjoy them in salads (great with blue cheese, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and pears), in risotto (bizarrely with red wine), grilled, or with chilli, garlic and cream over pasta.
We have had a great sunflower crop in the Vendée. One day we will make oil, but this year we are again offering them as bird feeders. Hung in your garden, they will provide hours of entertainment for you and your birds. £1.95 for two.
I am buoyed by the growing acceptance of radicchio, but suspect my enthusiasm for bitter has gone too far with cardoons; seldom have I had more complaints than when we put them in the boxes last year. But they are at their most succulent now, and I can’t quite bring myself to plough them in. So, in one last throw, I am offering them totally free. All you have to do is order (and cook; my gratin recipe is included). Bitter lovers, enjoy… the rest of you can stick to your dull sweetness.