Autumn is a great season in which to experiment with dried fruit and root vegetables. Traditional societies added a lot of dried fruit to their dishes for the simple reason the results are so pleasing. From the end of Autumn until the following growing season dried fruit was often the only source of sweetness our ancestors had to sweeten a dish. Dates, figs, apricots, prunes, raisins, sultanas, sliced apples etc. were all used in our ancestral dishes regardless of continent or region. In Afghanistan, along the Hindu Kush, by way of examples local populations have been cultivating mulberry, apricot and plumb trees for thousands of years, drying the fruits in the hot summer months on their roof tops. The sweetness from the fruit was not just reserved for deserts, cakes or puddings. Dried fruit was (and still is) used to add extra flavour to savoury meals.
In the absence of sugar and with honey being a rare treat age old dishes combined the sweetness derived from dried fruit with the savoury adding a sprinkling of spices and some nuts along the way to deliver mouth-watering, delectable dish. In the middle east but particularly Iran (home to traditional Persian cuisine) the combination of spices, dried (or fresh) fruit and meat is still common. A Moroccan tagine is often adorned with figs, apricots or prunes. In modern Europe we seem to have forgotten our love affair of adding dried fruit to our savoury dishes – echoes of it only faintly heard in some “traditional” Christmas dishes such as “mince” pies. We are more likely to associate dried fruit these days with saw-dust-like muesli or kill-joy birthday parties. No wonder many of us feel virtuous rather than joyous at the thought of buying dried fruit. I hope that some of these recipes inspire you to buy good quality dried fruit more often – not just to eat as a stand alone snack – but as a core ingredient in many delectable dishes.
Below then some tasty ways in which dried fruit can be incorporated into a satisfying, traditional and wholesome meal. From an apricot & cardamom beef-shank stew, to a wild venison and prune stew, from a spiced lamb and fig tagine to a traditional meat pie combined with a shot of Armagnac, from chicken legs roasted in preserved lemon to porc tenderloin in quince jelly you have plenty to choose from as you plan your late autumn meals. I have also included a dried prunes & port Bundt cake as well as a quince cheese and a cardamom and quince tart which is one of my all time favourite autumn culinary treats.
As for baked root vegetables – the combination of baked vegetables with some blended or crushed nuts adds unexpected moisture, flavour and sweetness to cakes and bakes. See my pumpkin recipe but I have also experimented with a sweet potato frangipane tart, some truly yummy swede and carrot cup-cakes (a surprisingly big hit with the kids) alongside the more commonly known French apple tart.
All highly appealing comfort food especially after trudging home from work, school or random ramblings with a dog on misty, rainy afternoons!