The end of summer has many hints and indications, but yesterday two of them stood out like signal flags. First was the cyclamen, in a dozen different places but unanimous about the date to start flowering. Second was the underfoot crunch of crab apples as we played croquet. Should there be a John Downie rule? Probably not: it’s the same hazard for everybody. Clearing them off the grass is not an option; the tree rains its red and yellow fruit for weeks on end, too small to rake up. The proper procedure is probably rather like the olive crop, involving sheets, shaking and beating the branches, with a fragrant cauldron of jelly at the end. But now there is harvest everywhere: plums and gages still, apples starting, raspberries and tomatoes, wine berries that have seeded in half a dozen places, blackberries in the hedge (it’s a good year already) and huge puffballs attracting your eye like wind blown plastic bags.
It’s a strange creature, the puffball; a mushroom apparently crossed with a cheese. We started on a 4 lb monster at breakfast yesterday, frying thin slices in the pan after the bacon until they were golden brown and slightly crisp. The flavour is mild mushroom and the texture when you cut and slice just like a huge curd cheese. I made the mistake though of leaving this beautiful white football in the sun all afternoon. By evening there was a ripely cheesy smell, the cut surface was turning yellow, and to jettison it was the only course.
Better I believe to pick them at croquet ball size and keep them in the larder while you intrigue your friends with their mysterious savour. Some people cook them with oil and garlic. I have tried them raw but found them rather dull and pappy.