Revealing hidden colours: The Science of autumn

As the leaves start to turn, it is a colourful reminder of the changing season but whilst we can all appreciate the vibrant reds, oranges and golds of autumn leaves, we often don’t appreciate the science behind these glorious colour changes. Chris Clennett, Garden Manager at Wakehurst reveals why and how leaves change colour in the autumn.

Trees use the green pigment, chlorophyll, in their leaves to photosynthesise and provide the energy they need to live and grow. Triggered by the shorter days and colder nights that herald the start of autumn, trees that lose their leaves for the winter, stop making chlorophyll and it begins to slowly breakdown as the tree goes through a process to shutdown photosynthesis and reclaim valuable nutrients from the leaves. This process reveals all those other chemicals, like yellow flavonols, orange carotenoids and red/purple anthocyanins, which were hidden by the dominant green chlorophyll earlier in the year.

As the tree becomes dormant, a compound called abscisic acid triggers a seal to develop at the base of the leaves as they prepare to separate from the tree and fall off. This reduces water reaching the leaf and traps the chemicals remaining in the leaves. They then gradually break down, changing the colour of each leaf before it drops to the ground.

Cooking up for autumn: Pumpkin. spice & all things nice

Pumpkins and all things Halloween have become another of our autumn favourites and as they start to appear in the shops, it won’t be long before we see huge pumpkins etched with toothy comic faces lighting up our doorsteps and window ledges. However, although the bigger the better for carving, these large pumpkins are not ideal for use in cooking due to their high water content.

At South Lodge Hotel and Spa, the Garden team have been growing the ornamental and colourful Turks Turban and butternut squash to supply the kitchen. They also recommend that the pumpkin/squash ‘Crown Prince’ with its distinct silvery blue/green skin and dense bright orange flesh, is best for its buttery and nutty flavour and is perfect for cooking and roasting. It also has the added bonus of storing well and being a great source of fibre and Vitamin A.

In celebration of this versatile Autumn favourite, Head Chef Jonathan Spiers, at the Botanica restaurant in the Spa at South Lodge Hotel currently has Pumpkin and Spice Panna cotta with Pumpkin Brittle & Chocolate on the menu and is delighted to share his delicious recipe for Slow cooked Crown Prince Squash with Pumpkin Seed Butter and Tabil Spiced Rice for you to try. (The recipe makes 8 small plates or 1 large sharing salad)

Pumpkin panna cotta
Pumpkin panna cotta

For the Roasted Squash

1 Crown Prince pumpkin/squash
2 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
50g table salt

For the Pumpkin Butter

400g pumpkin seeds
50ml sunflower oil
Pinch of Salt

Tabil Spiced Rice

3 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1 tablespoon Caraway seeds
1 tablespoon Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
50g black wild rice
500ml vegetable oil
To Garnish: Fresh coriander leaves

Pumpkin with Tabil Spice Rice
Pumpkin with Tabil Spice Rice

Instructions:

    • Pre-heat your oven to 160°C.
    • Peel the Crown Prince squash until all the green skin is removed.
    • Carefully cut the squash into quarters and then into half again. Trim any remaining skin off and scoop out the seeds.
    • Cut each eighth into 3 even wedges and place all the wedges into a bowl. Cover with the 50g of table salt and give it all a good mix so each piece of the squash is evenly coated in the salt.
    • Leave for 30 minutes. Meanwhile start to make your pumpkin butter, and Tabil spiced rice.
    • Place your pumpkin seeds onto a baking tray and place into the pre heated oven. Roast for 12-15 minutes.
    • Transfer the hot toasted seeds to a liquidiser and blend until they start to form a paste (this has to be done whilst they are still hot). Add a pinch of salt to the paste and the sunflower oil and blitz for a further 2 minutes. Transfer into a tub and keep to hand for plating. (This can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for 10 days)
    • To make the Tabil spice, gently toast the coriander, caraway and cumin seeds in a frying pan for about 2 minutes to release the aromas. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and add the chilli flakes, grind to a powder. (You can keep this spice mix in a jar. It’s great on beef and pork)
    • Put the vegetable oil into a deep sauce pan and carefully heat the vegetable oil to 220°C. Use a thermometer to test this. Carefully drop raw wild rice into the hot oil, it will fry and “puff” up.
    • Carefully remove the cooked rice from the hot oil with a slotted spoon onto a piece of kitchen cloth to absorb any excess oil and sprinkle whilst warm with your Tabil spice.
    • Back to your squash, remove it from the bowl of salt and wash off the salt. Place onto a dry cloth and pat dry all over.
    • Put all you Squash wedges with the garlic, thyme and oil onto a baking tray and give a good mix. Slide into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. You will know they are cooked as you can pierce with a skewer and have little to no resistance.
    • To assemble, spoon a generous amount of you pumpkin butter onto the plate followed by 3 pieces of squash, sprinkle with your puffed wild rice and a sprinkle of coriander leaves.

Harvest home: Gathering grape momentum

Vineyards are becoming an ever more familiar site in our Sussex countryside and the county now boasts an enviable list of award-winning vineyards. Bolney Wine Estate is one of the leading and longest established English vineyards as a third-generation family business founded in 1972, so as they geared up for this year’s harvest I went along to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes at this critical time of the year.

I discovered that it is a particularly important harvest this year at Bolney Wine Estate as they have estimated that around 270 tonnes of grapes will be processed through their new start-of-the-art winery. Managing Director and Head Winemaker of Bolney Wine Estate, Sam Linter, says …

“The opening of our new winery is perfectly timed to ensure that we can process more of our grapes than ever before and as efficiently as possible. This is especially important following our merger with Pookchurch vineyard in January which saw us form a 104-acre Estate, which will see us produce 300 tonnes of grapes annually.“

Partial to a glass of wine and fascinated by our burgeoning English wine scene, beyond that I must admit I only had a limited appreciation of what goes into a wine harvest so I came armed with a list of burning questions to ask the team at Bolney:

Q: What triggers harvest? What are the signs that you are looking out for? How do you know when the grapes are ready for you to go ahead with the harvest?

A: Normally we pick the grapes based on physiological ripeness defined by their sugar content and acidity, as well as disease pressures, if there is any, and, of course, the weather and availability of labour will influence when we harvest!

Q: Which type of grape gets harvested first and why? Why are some grapes early while others need later to mature?

A: Normally, the Rondo, which is a dark-skinned grape variety used for making our red wine, is harvested first as it ripens early and quickly becomes very soft and overripe and doesn’t have good hang-time.

Q: How does a hot or wet summer influence the character of the grapes? Does late sun/Indian Summer have an effect on the final wine?

A: Wet and warm isn’t great as it helps disease spread. A bit of late sun is perfect as it helps with ripening, keeping disease away and making picking more pleasurable!

It was great meeting the team and the Estate certainly have grand ambitions for the future with this new development enabling them to increase production of premium still and sparkling wines by 170% within the next 3 years to 300,000 bottles of premium wine being produced by the Estate by 2022!