Each morning I fold back the shutters and gaze down at the solitary golden pumpkin winding its way down the garden path towards the kitchen door. It is as if it cannot wait to get into the kitchen, to be softened with sweet onions and rosemary leaves, simmered with vegetable stock and mashed into a thick soup. My pumpkin longs to be indoors in a deep bowl, snippets of bacon floating on her velvety surface. And so, in time, she will be.
The first seeds I planted in my tiny kitchen garden were that of the French variety, Rouge Vif D'Etamps. One plumped up like the stagecoach in Cinderella, and at Halloween became a magical lantern, then soup and a saffron-coloured mash with a pot-roast rabbit. Despite its size, I never tired of its sweet nuttiness, never became desperate enough to make that bland, sweet pap Americans call pumpkin pie.
This year, I can't wait to eat great wedges of squash roasted with butter, bay leaves and black pepper. There are plenty in the market, and more user-friendly than the vast globe in my garden, small enough to bake one per person, and their skin not so tough to need a machete to get through it. Cut them in half, scrape out the long, oval seeds, then bake the yellow flesh with a little oregano, bay and butter.
Roast sweet vegetables are just what I want to eat alongside game birds, such as partridge and wild duck. I have been cooking them rather differently this year. Partridge, quail and duck have all spent a few hours in seasoned salt before roasting. Quail is only really worth the oven-time if you are prepared to pick it up and eat it cave-man style. Last night, I seasoned a roasting tin of them with sea salt, juniper and rosemary. An orgy of sticky, salty skin, rose-pink flesh and tiny, crackling bones. We tugged and sucked at every bone and left them almost clean. I ran my finger round the plate to catch the meagre salty juices, then went back for more.
I did it again this morning, but just for one. For the record, with a pestle and mortar I pounded two tablespoons of Maldon sea-salt flakes with a couple of heaped teaspoons of juniper berries and the leaves of two bushy sprigs of rosemary with a pestle and mortar. The smell was woodsy and resinous, like I was chopping logs. I rubbed this mixture into the skins of a couple of fat quails and left them for a good two hours (push some of the seasoned salt inside the carcass with your fingers, too). I brushed off the excess salt, splashed a bit of groundnut oil over them, poked a thick wedge of lemon inside each and roasted them for 18 minutes at 200 C/gas mark 6.
There is something neat and tidy about having a little bird all to yourself - you get all the best bits. It's so early in the season that we can pretty much forget about having to braise or stew - any small game will be tender enough to roast and grill. High-temperature, short-time cooking allows a certain purity of flavour that can get lost once we start adding wine, herbs and onions.
Those who buy their game from the fishmonger might like to take a look at the hake while they are there. Not a pretty fish, with its skin dull and ivory-grey, it is all-too-easy to pass it up for something more exquisite - a lemon sole, perhaps. Too bad. Hake has some of the meatiest flesh of all fish, firm and clean tasting. It is a good fish to fry in robust style, perhaps with olive oil, diced bacon and a few mussels. Add lots of flat-leafed parsley to the pan at the last minute.
Clams are a tactile feast for an autumn lunch. You can stew them in a pot like moules marinières or do it my way: soak, then scrub the clams with a small brush to remove any trace of sand. Fry a chopped shallot in olive oil in a large pan until it is soft, not coloured, then add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and let them soften. Throw in a handful of chopped parsley and a finely chopped red chilli, let it soften, then tip in two glasses of white wine and two big double handfuls of clams. Cover, and let them cook in their steam until most have opened. Discard any that resolutely refuse. Tip the clams and ladle the broth out into bowls and pass round thick hunks of bread.
My aubergines came to nothing. The plants grew short and strong and their mauve and green leaves hid low-hanging flowers of the most beautiful purple, but that is as far as they went. So I am grateful once again for the local Cypriot grocers who stock the thin, small aubergines I prefer. I grill them, then douse them in a chunky dressing of olive oil, finely chopped, meticulously peeled lemon flesh, roughly chopped parsley and the smallest capers. Sometimes I put coriander leaf in, too. And always salt and black pepper. I scoop up the grilled vegetables and their dressing with warm, flat bread - cornershop pitta, if that's all you can get.
Wild mushrooms are there, still, for those who know which woods to scout in. It is with these, or perhaps the large, flat, cultivated variety that I suggest you get out the verjuice. The product of crushed unripe grapes, verjuice is an ancient seasoning, a cross between lemon juice and vinegar but more mellow. When you have sautéed your fungi with butter and tarragon, or maybe with olive oil and basil, shake in the verjuice just as you would if you were sharpening them up with lemon.
With the exception of mushrooms, blackberries, sloes and ransomes, I am a bit of a wild food wimp. Wondering if the next mouthful will kill me is something I can live without.
I am still picking raspberries from the garden. Twenty-two today. Fat beads of the deepest claret red. They should have turned up alongside a quivering mound of pannacotta at dinner. Instead, I ate every last one of them myself without telling a soul. 'Grow them in the coolest part of the garden,' said Monty Don, and he was right - they have done better than I ever expected and I have ordered another 10 canes for next year.
I can rarely resist a fig, either. Whether it is of the deepest, velvety purple or the softest green flushed with maroon, a fig is something you want to stroke tenderly before you eat. If you are sharing them with friends, simply put the fruits nestled snugly on a large platter. Let everyone help themselves and eat them as they wish. Watch closely - it's interesting to see how people tackle such a sensuous fruit. Those I served last night were part of a slightly more formal dinner so I teased them open first, then roasted them for 25 minutes or so with a little sweet wine wine and orange peel, the meanest shake of dried ginger and a few crushed green cardamom seeds. There was a bowl of goat's yogurt for those who were interested. We ended with cardamom chocolate wafers from Rococo in the King's Road and wet walnuts, whose fat shells we snapped open with our fingers. The meat inside was so young and juicy it was barely ready to be called a nut.