They are the days of fading summer, when grey clouds blanket the sky and bring with them the persistent drizzle and gloom of autumn. When the lights are needed by mid-afternoon. They’re the days that stir in me a dormant, almost primal, desire to bake pie. To savour the richer, more comforting foods that my mouth has forgotten about over the warmer months.
In some ways, this is a tragedy; they’re feelings that I am ashamed to feel so soon. The British summer is a fleetingly rare phenomenon that can trick us all into thinking that it has passed for another year. It will mess with our heads, throwing us one utterly horrible grey day that makes us think of autumn, before lurching back into long days of sunshine and clear blue skies.
So it is always a conundrum when, late in August, I suddenly feel the urge to embrace the changing season and make very autumnal recipes while simultaneously willing summer to last just that little bit longer. Over the last few years, my August bank holiday weekend has involved picking blackberries and stewing them with apples while I make shortcrust pastry to fill a pie – a celebration of the late summer and its passing as darker, colder times lurk on the horizon.
That time is approaching now. Yet despite a dreary Sunday just gone that began to awake this dormant desire for pastry, the weather has flung back to warm sun. I should be delighted that the summer – a season I anticipate so much each year – is clinging on, giving us a few more days (maybe even weeks) of good weather. It should be brewing a desire for al fresco eating, for food that sings as the sunshine radiates off it. At the very least, my British background should be screaming at me to run to the nearest shop, grab all the bread rolls I can hold along with a couple of throwaway barbecues, and head to whatever scenic spot isn’t already overcrowded and spoilt by the thousands of others who’ve had the same idea and decided to venture out of their stiflingly hot homes.
Yet all I can think about is whether I can make pie yet. And not just my traditional yearly apple and blackberry pie to serve swimming in custard. No, I want a piping hot, pastry-covered, delicious smelling steak and ale pie. And mash. Lots of it. Oh and extra gravy from preparing the filling. This is not the food for summer. The weather needs to turn. And there I am, wanting it to happen. What has happened to me?
Is it just some fascination with pastry? A longing for its crisp, buttery crunch as the knife passes through it? No, while the thought is certainly making me salivate, I know that there is more to it than that. I really want risotto, too. Not a light spring or summer risotto. A hearty, warming risotto with squash and pancetta. A risotto to give me a big hug on a cold night as I stir it, glass of wine in hand. I want thick, slow-cooked ragùs, clinging on to piping hot pasta and smothered in melting cheese. And I want chunky root vegetable casseroles, topped with cheddar scones to contain the volcanically hot liquid below.
All of these foods require cooler weather, dark nights and perhaps some wind and rain hammering on the windows. They’re the foods that make those times that little bit better, a bit warmer. They’re what you should crave once the weather has turned. Instead, I’m here craving that the weather turns so that I can have them. All of them. Now.
I do love the summer. But right now I want it to be over quicker than a portion of chicken and leek pie would survive on the plate in front of me.