Last week, I took a short break down to Suffolk, truly a most glorious county.

We stayed in Tracy’s old family cottage in the Thorpeness, an idyllic purpose-built village created in 1910 for people to enjoy peaceful, safe holidays on the coast.

It is an absolutely wonderful place, dominated by a large shallow lake, the Meare, filled with swans, ducks and dozens of pleasure boats. It’s like stepping back into the 1950s, and in a good way.

Families row gently among the reeds, people wave ‘good morning’ as they pass you on their pushbikes, and all you can hear when you’re out on the lake is the occasional call of a bird or the gentle thwack of a golf ball being hit from the course behind the Meare. Blissful.

Beyond the coast, Suffolk is teeming with life and nature. It’s foodie heaven. There are incredible restaurants – I can highly recommend Darsham Nurseries (; it’s genuinely the best lunch I’ve had in many years – and every small town appears to have one or two superb delicatessens, bakeries or food stores.

In the fields, there are happy free-range chickens, fat lambs, huge porky pigs and many wild deer. The list of great local ingredients would fill a notebook; Sutton Hoo chicken, Dingley Dell pork, Aspall Cider, Pump Street Bakery bread, Pinney’s Seafood, Richardson’s smoked fish and meats, Adnams Beers, and countless other proper artisan producers.

And at this time of year, the vast areas of hedgerow are literally popping with fresh, free ingredients. We just couldn’t resist; several times the car screeched to a halt, and we all piled out with our carrier bags to liberate a bush of its fruity treasures.

We took a trip to the RSPB Reserve at Minsmere, where the BBC’s ‘Springwatch’-type shows have been filmed.

It’s a stunning, vast wetland, where one may see hundreds of native birds, including the elusive bittern. On the long road away from the reserve we spotted several bushes absolutely heaving with sloes, damsons and bullaces, and spent several happy moments scampering about, filling our bags and thinking of what we were to do with this wild bounty.

Tracy makes a mean traditional fruit gin, so much of the fruit was destined for the demijohn, but I reserved some to use in a recipe, along with some fresh cobnuts.

I’d never cooked with these amazing nuts before, and several food writer friends had suggested that they are almost too good to use in recipes.

At this time of year, these particularly tasty cultivated hazelnuts, mainly from Kent, but now grown around other southern counties, are at their peak; fresh, creamy and succulent.

Traditionally they were taken with a glass of port by Victorian gourmets, and nowadays chefs race to bag the freshest nuts to use in their September recipes.

Many of ours were enjoyed with a few slices of Suffolk charcuterie, but I saved some to combine with my damsons and a few foraged apples in a simple recipe that showcases the impressive produce that we all potentially have growing around us. Right now, we could almost all of us go for a 20-minute walk and come back with wild apples, rosehips, elderberries and bagfuls of blackberries.

Pop them down on the kitchen table with a smile, and just marvel at all the things you can do, from the simplest crumble, to delicate pastries or even savoury dishes.

We enjoyed a black pudding toad-in-the-hole with some caramelised windfall apple last night, and I’m desperate to try the combination of blackberries and mackerel.

The important thing is to get out there and forage, especially at this bountiful time of the year.

It’s good for the soul, for the heart and, frankly, for the pocket.

For the Damson-Apple Compôte:

400g Braeburn apples

400g damsons

100g unrefined golden caster sugar

80g butter

Splash of lemon juice

For the Vanilla Custard:

600ml double cream

50g unrefined golden caster sugar

8 fresh free-range egg yolks

2 vanilla pods, seeds separated

For the Crumble Topping:

120g plain flour

100g chilled unsalted butter, diced

20g melted, cooled butter

30g unrefined golden caster sugar

30g unrefined light muscovado sugar

100g peeled cobnuts or hazelnuts


Glass pots or ramekins

Deep-sided baking tray


To make the compote, stone and halve the damsons. Peel, core and dice the apple. Gently melt the butter and sugar and add the fruit, along with a splash of lemon juice. Simmer gently until the apple has collapsed completely.

Check for taste, and either push through a coarse sieve or leave chunky. Cool until you’re ready to use.

For the crumble topping, set the oven to 190°C / Gas 5. If you’re lucky enough to be using fresh cobnuts, peel and roast gently until golden, tossing frequently, then crush into small pieces. Otherwise, just roast some blanched hazelnuts. Whizz the flour and 100g butter in a food processor, or rub by hand, until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the melted butter, bringing the mixture together into a nice soft dough.

Set aside to firm up in a cool place for half an hour. Break the dough into rough pea-sized pieces and spread them in an even layer into a baking tray.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until deeply golden and fragrant. Add the crushed nuts and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 130°C / Gas 1.

To prepare the custard, split the vanilla pods and reserve the seeds. Gently heat the cream with the split vanilla pods until just beginning to bubble.

Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla seeds and the sugar together, then add the hot cream, and mix well. Strain through a sieve into a clean pan, and whisk the custard gently until it just begins to thicken.

It should leave a line when a finger is drawn across the back of a spoon.

Pour the custard into the jars or ramekins and bake for 30-40 minutes until just set and wobbly. Chill before serving.

To assemble the dish spoon a little of the damson-apple compote into each custard pot and top this with the nutty crumble.