Friday, October 11, 2013


Up until a few days ago I wasn’t really sure. And then. as always, with that reassuring inevitability, a belt of storms raced in, turning Corfu into a meteorologist’s exotic dream with inspirational water spouts

And stunning lightning strikes

Any lingering doubts I might have had  vanished with the arrival of the yellow light and muddy skies that accompany weather sweeping in from the south – sand-infused rain, gusty winds, temperatures that hover in the muggy range. I think we can safely assume that autumn is really here. There are of course soothsayers who insist that there will be a ‘little summer’ in a week or so. I hope they are right.

The date of the actual transition of the season varies slightly according to where you live. The Americans and Canadians have already welcomed Autumn with the September Equinox and Fall Foliage Tours are well underway and popular with Leaf Peepers as the North Americans, with their gift for inventing apt names, refer to this seasonal activity.

In Kyoto, Japan, also a lure for leaf-lovers, the blaze of colour reaches its climax in mid to late November,

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree. So wrote Charlotte Bronte.

Here in Corfu, with its preponderance of olive and cypress trees, the messengers of Autumn are a little more elusive. Autumn is more a thought, an anticipation, than a highly visible announcement of a change of season.
The ‘squirrel instinct’ returns, and here on the island we start cutting and storing wood for the winter heating, moving the furniture around in an orgy of nesting similar to that of animals preparing to hibernate. The country women of the island used to start the insulation process about  now, spreading Flokati rugs and goat skins on the floors, hanging thick curtains, pursuing their children with jackets and scarves every time they ventured out. In the kitchens, the season of soups was, and is,  with us again.

I always loved the autumn puddings but living in Corfu and eating a diet that follows the Greek pattern rather than the traditionally English one, puddings are on the whole a thing of the past and, with our strong links with Italy, more likely to be a tiramisu than a Spotted Dick! Autumn fruits do lend themselves to comfort eating though – apples, plums, blackberries - all make perfect partnerships with flour, sugar, butter and a sprinkling of spices, and result in glorious pies, puddings – and crumbles.
Crumbles, once considered the poor relation of a stately pie, have suddenly become fashionable in England, with the most renowned chefs lending their names to new and sometimes startling versions. I hear that the French have discovered le crumble - whatever next! Me, I go for that unbeatable combination of apple and plum or apple and blackberry or, indeed, just apple, with a few sultanas, brown sugar and a subtle pinch of vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. Perfection. And easy to make here in Corfu! I would leap at the chance of a portion of Nigel Slater’s gooseberry and ground almond crumble but if you ever see a gooseberry in Corfu  na mou tripisis ti miti’ ’  as the locals would say (you can make a hole in my nose),

People say that we no longer get a real autumn, a true Spring; that we bid a sudden farewell to winter with temperatures soaring overnight and that we beat a hasty retreat from high summer into winter, In fact we are lucky enough to get a gentle but insistent Autumn, ushering us delicately but irrefutably into winter.
On the mainland, in Epirus, where there are still vast expanses of mountain bush and forest, the change is about to occur. There is a lightening of the hues of the deciduous trees. The dense foliage of the great trees that stand at the heart of every village is sparser now, the blue of the sky that is no longer hidden from view by the ancient branches is sharper and somehow just a little less settled. Kids and dogs scuffle in the huge, brittle leaves that have fallen with an audible thud from the plane and fig trees.(This photo was taken in Corfu's oldest village, Paleo Perithia)

In our Corfu gardens, the ripe pomegranates begin to split their rosy skins and spill their seed wantonly; figs left on the trees are as sweet and sticky as only sun-dried fruit can be. Untended land, of which there is too much on the island, is covered with brambles. Why is it that these are thicker and thornier than they are in Britain? Here the only fruit worth picking is deep within the over-protective, prickly embrace of the rampant brambles and the blackberry and apple pies of my youth in England can only be achieved by suicidal forays into the thorny thickets of Corfu .

There I go – thinking of comfort food again. The ripe fruits of October, however, are not only alluring to human foodies, they attract  the wasps that have survived the summer. These brutes  are fat, lazy, drunk, out of work and aggressive, as I recently read somewhere. The queens no longer require their services and they take out their frustrations on humans, making this the worst time of year for wasp stings. The locals place a little Greek coffee powder in a ‘dish’ of aluminium foil and set fire to it. The acrid smoke is the most effective wasp deterrent known to Man!
Now it has rained heavily the wasps are also mostly dead, drowned and swept away in the streams and brooks that have suddenly come to life once more.

It is grape harvest time, too, and while Corfu is no longer covered by vineyards as it once was (Homer refers to this and every traveler of the nineteenth century commented on the ubiquitous grapevines of the Corfiot countryside) the local people are pressing grapes – their own or bought from local growers or from the huge trucks that arrive from the Greek mainland at this time of year. Ho household in Corfu is complete without a stock of home-brewed wine and oil made from your own or a friend’s olives.


Autumn in Corfu may not arrive with a display of blatantly gorgeous autumn foliage, but the sunsets and sunrises are second to none.

It makes its presence felt in the sight of cyclamen amidst the shriveled leaves of summer; in the call of the buzzard on morning patrol; in the breathtaking sight of migrating  flamingoes on Lake Korission.

And it makes its presence felt in the curious and premature offerings of Christmas progtammes on TV. Similar I suppose to the Christmas decorations already apparent in the big stores of London and New York and just as irritating.

Bah humbug as Mr. Scrooge might have said.

My daughter has just phoned to ask what she should cook on Sunday and to say she is making apple muffins. At last! No more Sunday sandwich lunches while everyone else goes to the beach. No more supermarket cakes. Welcome back to the Food Fairy!

If there are typos in this blog - blame the kitten who has arrived in out home like an autumn windfall. Not the one in the photo though just as typical of the cats of Corfu.

Most of the photos in this blog were taken by my friend Frosso. Others by Katy, me, Min and Rita, and some are the work of local photographers who always seem to be in the right place at the right time!

October 2013