In a wide range of colours from white to bright orange, all the autumn pumpkins compete for attention in the vegetable garden. Especially in the South of France, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, but also in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, Occitanie, and everywhere else in France, the famous pumpkins, pumpkins and butternut squash are grown... but have you heard of their more confidential cousins? Spaghetti squash, whose yellow flesh can be scratched with a fork, or pasterns, which look like pretty white flowers, or butternut squash from Provence, with their sweet taste that enchants soups as well as desserts...
If there is one product associated with autumn, it is the mushroom! A ray of sunshine appears after the storm? In all the forests of France, people put on their boots to go picking. Ceps and chanterelles are the delight of sharp-eyed walkers. But mushrooms are also cultivated in the area. Some people trace this tradition back to Louis XIV. It developed in the 19th century with the rise of mushroom farms, first in the catacombs of Paris, then in the troglodyte cellars of the Loire Valley. Button mushrooms (white or pink), oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms are now grown all year round in the Ile-de-France, Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire regions (in Saumur and Tours in particular). But did you know that? Many button mushrooms are also grown... in the Hauts-de-France!
In the Grand-Est region, white cabbage is king: in Alsace, it is eaten finely chopped in the traditional choucroute, accompanied by potatoes and cold meats. But there are many varieties of cabbage: kohlrabi, green cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco cabbage... there is something for everyone! The major cabbage-producing region is Brittany: there, cauliflower reigns supreme. To be eaten raw, mashed, in a velvety sauce, spiced up with a few lardons, in a creamy gratin with béchamel sauce, or even roasted in the oven with spices: this is a vegetable that can be enjoyed in a thousand ways. You can never get enough of it!
Head for Normandy and Brittany: it is said that this is where the most beautiful French apples grow! The apple is by far the most consumed fruit in France, but here it is more than a fruit: it is a tradition. To be crunched, enjoyed in compote, sipped in juice or even in cider, this "apple wine" which is a must on Norman and Breton tables: the apple is the star of the autumn, from the aperitif to dessert. In Normandy, we opt for the Normandy tart and its melting pastry; in Brittany for the pommé, a generous cake that mixes Breton shortbread and apples. Gourmet!
It is the other star fruit of autumn in France, but this one grows more in the South: it is in the Provence-Alpes Côte d'Azur region that one out of two French pears is produced! It is here that one out of every two French pears is produced, and it is here that the slightly acidic Conference pears are mainly tasted. If you want to taste the Comices pears, plump and melt-in-the-mouth, head for the Centre-Val de Loire. As for the Louise Bonne pears, they are particularly pleasant at high altitudes and make the Savoyards happy. The pear is the star of many desserts, starting with the Belle-Hélène pear, a delicacy created in 1864 by the French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, named after Offenbach's opera which was a triumph throughout Europe at the time. The pear is coated with a generous layer of melting chocolate. Yummy!
This is a fruit that takes its time: it only ripens on the tree, and requires long periods of heat to give off all its flavours. Far from the large-scale cultivation of apples and pears, the quince is grown mainly in small orchards, mainly in the south-east of France, in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, but also in the Grand-Est region. Quince is always eaten cooked, in jam or compote, and goes very well in sweet and sour recipes (with a duck breast!). Our favourite? Quince paste, a very sweet fruit paste that goes wonderfully with sheep's milk cheese.
Well rounded and very sweet, the mirabelle plum is the little sunshine of autumn. This small yellow plum, which is eaten at the end of the summer, has made the reputation of Lorraine, in the Grand-Est region: almost all the mirabelles produced in the world are produced here! It is best eaten raw, just picked from the tree, but also cooked, in jams, pies, and even roasted to accompany white meats. A delightful treat!
Well hidden in its pungent bug, the chestnut is a fruit of the dry and wild character of the region: the Ardèche especially, but also Corsica. In the Monts d'Ardèche Regional Nature Park, the chestnut even has its own festival: the Castagnades, organised in October, are beautiful village festivals that celebrate the harvest. Often wrongly called "marron" (the real marron is not edible), the chestnut sublimates meat-based dishes, especially poultry! In its sweet version, chestnut cream is a delight for young and old alike, whether on toast, in cakes or on a crèpe!
In the south of Isère, along the Vercors, there are miles of walnut trees: near Vinay, this is the stronghold of the Protected Designation of Origin that distinguishes the nut of Grenoble. The other French walnut country is much further west: it is the Périgord, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Here, traces of walnut shells dating back 17,000 years have even been found: it seems that Cro-Magnon man was already fond of them! Harvested in the autumn, the walnut can be kept all winter long and accompanies salads and cheeses, but reveals all its flavours in a sweet version, in melting cakes or generous jams.
The Espelette chilli pepper
In the Basque Country, autumn is bright red: that of the Espelette chillies, which are hung in flamboyant garlands from village windows to dry. This little sweet pepper is an essential ingredient in Basque cuisine, making piperades and other traditional recipes such as Basque chicken or gaxuxa rice (Basque risotto) even more delicious. It also adds a subtle flavour to foie gras and even certain chocolates. In the small town of Espelette, which has a population of just 2,000, the chilli festival attracts almost 20,000 people every year at the end of October!
In France, the 1st of October traditionally marks the opening of the scallop fishing season, in the large bays of the English Channel such as those of Saint-Brieu and Mont Saint-Michel, the Bay of Seine and the Bay of Somme. The perfect shape of this shell has adorned the clothes of pilgrims following the footsteps of Saint James for centuries. Tender, adorned with its orange coral, the scallop can be eaten raw in carpaccio or cooked, roasted or pan-fried. In autumn, other shellfish are also delicious, such as cockles, clams, prairies and clams.
Autumn is the hunting season, and therefore the season of beautiful game pieces that delight carnivores. In the great forests of Ile-de-France and Centre-Val de Loire, but also in New Aquitaine and Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, it is the time to cook these meats with strong character. Venison legs are served with a sauce of red wine and herbs, accompanied by redcurrants, roast doe with a cranberry sauce, and woodcock, thrushes and other doves are roasted. As for wild boar stew, it is best eaten melted: the longer it simmers in red wine and onions, the better it is! It is difficult to talk about these red wine recipes without thinking of one of the great stars, even if it is not game: in Burgundy Franche-Comté, autumn is also a good time to enjoy a boeuf bourguignon, also simmered for hours in red wine!