In a world that is increasingly overwhelmed with recipes – online and in print – Kent-born food writer and cookbook author Rosie Birkett has carved out a voice which is distinctive – and delectable. “It’s an amalgam of all the things I’ve experienced in my life,” she muses, when visit her at home in Deal to discover her tips for hosting during the autumn season. “It’s my childhood in rural Kent, and that connection with seasonality and ingredients. My mum is a fantastic cook, and my dad was a voracious eater, who took great delight in seasonal changes. He took me foraging for mushrooms and wild garlic, and would get so excited about things like the first new Jersey Royal potatoes with butter. It was infectious,” she enthuses.
Indeed, today Rosie is well-versed in creating dishes that express her sense of seasonality and, just as importantly, conviviality. Though she began her career as a magazine journalist, it wasn’t long before she specialised in the food scene, interviewing chefs and writing features for hospitality publication The Caterer before going freelance and eventually – via a cookery course – graduating into styling and recipe writing. “I wanted to be a food stylist who celebrated the natural beauty of food over trickery. The most important thing is flavour, of course, but there are ways of enhancing the natural beauty of ingredients,” she explains. That is where Rosie’s love of – and taste for – good crockery comes in, essential for hosting during any season, but especially in autumn when the ingredients become naturally less vibrant.
A slow-braised beef shin can only look so appealing, for example. Serve it in a beautiful bowl with a few well-chosen table decorations, however, and there’s a sense of ceremony to the rich, comforting brownness; not ceremony in the sense of stiffness and formality, she continues, but “texture, thoughtfulness and intrigue”. Rosie is not a formal cook. Her recipes are built for feasting, sharing, and lingering over the rest of the bottle as the candles flicker into the remains of the evening – the perfect building blocks for an easy autumn dinner party. After more than a decade working in food, she knows the connecting thread throughout her work is “the love of food and its unifying, creative, nourishing nature”, and she is at her happiest when that is the focus of her writing.
“The recipes I post [on Substack, a newsletter platform that lets writers publish directly to their audiences] are the dishes I made last night,” she says. These, in turn will have been inspired by the ingredients of that moment – and when it comes to autumn recipes, there is no shortage of inspiration. “There’s a depth of flavour to autumnal produce,” she reflects. Where summer is about “salads, quick grills and showy ingredients, autumn is more about food that is gorgeous and glorious and rich in colour – but which takes a bit more cooking. I’m thinking about squashes that have spent summer swelling and maturing in flavour, mushrooms, bitter leaves, beautiful brassicas and celeriac,” she laughs, “which is not the most beautiful, but is so delicious.”
What with moving from London to Deal, renovating a house, and having her daughter, now two years old, Rosie’s life has changed dramatically in recent years, and her approach to hosting has changed accordingly. Her autumn dinner party recipes are suitably laid-back and hearty, prepared in advance to take the pressure off cooking and entertaining. Think squash, kale and halloumi stroganoff, heaped high on buttered noodles; chestnut mushrooms pickled with tarragon; and whipped ricotta served with fried, salted sage and crispy bread.
“It’s about something manageable and delicious, that takes the stress out and allows me to enjoy it,” Rosie says of her autumn dinner party menu ideas. “Something I’ve cooked ahead, like a slow braise, which I can keep warm in the pan. I like to have bread on the table when guests arrive, with butter that I’ve whipped up with sea salt ,and labneh too, if I’ve had time. It’s about those little homemade touches – not going crazy,” she continues. It’s a home not a restaurant – and she’s not averse to a good shop-bought pudding.
When it comes to her tips for hosting in autumn, her advice is equally laid back. “Resist the temptation to overcomplicate things,” she says. “Lean into the beautiful bounty of autumn with a seasonal menu and a few simple table decorations that nod to the time of year – I like gourds, crab apples and pretty twigs – and pay attention to the people. I am so thankful for those connections.” Sharing seasonal joys with physical company, as well as a growing digital community, is the real treat.
Tuck into Rosie’s world by following her on Substack