It is the season of inky-blue fruit. The elderberries are falling in glossy, purple-black clusters over the wall, their branches weighed down by the fat pigeons that feast on their fruit. (Having robbed me they then add insult to injury by leaving great purple splatters down the kitchen windows.) These free fruits are the one garden treasure I shamefully fail to make the most of - I'm happy enough to leave them to the birds.
The blackberries are a different matter. Most of the blackberries I have eaten in my life have been picked for free: the impenetrable, cloud-shaped mound of brambles in the farmer's field behind the school bus stop; the seemingly endless hedgerow feasts along my daily walk to work in Cornwall; and now, the festoons of fruit that appear in my garden.
The best flavour seems to come from the wild berries of field and hedgerow. Shiny as a tart's lips, the berries are at their most piercingly sweet-sharp when eaten raw and lose much of their magic when they meet the heat. That said, they have an unquestionable affinity with sharp, green-skinned apples. The pairing works refreshingly as an autumn breakfast, but the real business is when a sweet crust is involved.
As eating goes, autumn's glut of indigo-coloured berries is far more of a sensuous experience than the scarlet fruits of summer. The crusts in their various guises make sure of this: the crumbles, softly collapsing short crusts, oat-scattered crisps and butter-saturated breadcrumbs provide a sexy contrast to the purple fruits. Health freaks can shut up with their joyless whining - such things are made to come in thin layers on top of a deep, deep puddle of fresh fruit. The fruit is the real star, the crust is simply what the fruit happens to be wearing that week.
I will not bemoan the passing of this mean little summer; I will instead sink into the cool evenings and golden mornings of autumn and tuck into its unstoppable bounty - the sweetcorn, the orange pumpkins and late beans. The pumpkins that find their way into my shopping bag will end up as soup or savoury crumble before the hot, blue-black puddings get put on the table; the sweetcorn will end up in soups with thyme and onions, and the mushrooms may well end up under a layer of garlic, tarragon and crisp white breadcrumbs. But for now let's feast on the fruits that turn our teeth and tongues the colour of a bottle of ink.
Blackberry and apple crisp
A crisp, light crust with soft, sweet-sharp fruit underneath - a treat with cream. Serves 6.
800g sharp apples, such as Bramley or Peasgood's Nonsuch
a knife point of cinnamon
for the crust:
180g soft white bread
80g light muscovado sugar
80g butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Peel and core the apples and cut into thick slices. Put them in a non-stick pan with a tablespoon or two of water, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes until they have softened slightly. Don't let them collapse.
Transfer to a buttered pudding basin or shallow casserole and toss gently with the blackberries and cinnamon. Don't overdo the cinnamon. Whizz the bread to rough crumbs in a food processor - not too fine.
Mix the breadcrumbs and sugar and cover the fruit loosely with the mixture. Melt the butter in a small pan then pour it over the crumbs. Bake for 45 minutes, till the apples are soft and melting and the crumbs golden and crisp. If the top is browning too soon, place a piece of foil over the top.
Damson almond crumble
4 tbsp caster sugar (or more to taste)
a thin slice of butter
for the crumble:
150g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g butter (cold, straight from the fridge)
75g caster or light brown sugar
Put the damsons in a shallow pan with the sugar and the butter and a tablespoon or two of water. Cook over a moderate heat until the juices start to flow - about 5 minutes depending on the ripeness of your fruit. Tip the fruit and the juice into a deep pie dish.
Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. When the mixture begins to resemble coarse breadcrumbs stir in the almonds and sugar. Sprinkle a tablespoon of water over it and stir lightly with a fork.
Some of the crumbs should stick together in small lumps - this gives a more interesting crumble. Scatter the crumble over the fruit, then bake in a preheated oven at 200C/gas mark 6 for 35 minutes. The crumble is ready when the crumbs are pale gold and some juices have soaked through the crust. Serve with thick, golden cream.
Spiced pumpkin soup with bacon
Serves 4, generously.
a medium onion
2 plump cloves of garlic
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seed
2 small dried chillies
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
4 rashers smoked bacon
100ml single cream
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan and cook the onion and the garlic, peeled and sliced, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, peel the pumpkin, remove the stringy bits and seeds and discard them with the peel. Chop into rough cubes and add to the onions. Cook until the pumpkin is golden brown at the edges. Toast the coriander seeds and cumin in a small pan over a low heat until they start to smell warm and nutty - about 2 minutes. Keep the pan to one side for later. Grind the roasted spices in a coffee mill or pestle and mortar. Add them and the chillies to the onions and pumpkin. Cook for a minute then add the stock.
Leave to simmer for 20 minutes or so until the pumpkin is tender. Fry the bacon in the pan in which you toasted the spices. It should be crisp. Cool a little then cut up into small pieces. Whizz the soup thoroughly in a blender or food processor till quite smooth.
Pour in the cream and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Return to the pan, bring almost to the boil and then serve, piping hot, with the bacon bits scattered on top.