So the Argus has come and gone. It may not have been much of an event this year, what with the South Easter howling at up to 100km an hour and the cycle race being cancelled about an hour in. Cancelled or not, for me the Argus is my line in the sand. My signal that the soul-destroyingly, pulse-slittingly endless howling of the Cape South Easter is about to stop; and that mellow autumn is about to come knocking on my kitchen door. The days may still be warm, but the signs are all around me.
The mornings have a decided chill to them now and in my garden the squirrels have gone into overdrive, collecting nuts from the large oak tree and burying them in my lawn. Come spring, the ones they forgot will emerge as baby oak trees.
At the market I fill my basket with shiny pomegranates, dark purple figs and the plumpest of plums. It seems that summer saves her best for last. My spice cupboard – largely ignored in favour of fresh herbs since September – gets restocked. Cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, cumin, coriander… Fragrant, comforting and warming, these are my autumn and winter heroes.
I know it’s basic, but a pavlova has to be one of my all-time favourite desserts. In summer I stack it high with juicy strawberries. But come autumn, I feel the need for something a little, well, ‘more’. Those plums do nicely, especially when lightly poached in a decadent Pinotage syrup bursting with the heady perfume of cloves, cinnamon and star anise.
All you need is…
1 cup Pinotage (can be substituted with Merlot or Shiraz)
third of a cup of sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 star anise
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
3-4 firm plums
pavlova meringue base
vanilla ice cream
Add the wine, sugar and all the spices to a saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Halve the plums and gently poach them in the spiced wine until they just start to soften. Keep an eye on them, they turn from soft to mush very quickly.
Remove plums and set aside. Boil the spiced wine until it is reduced to a third of a cup. Place the plums back in the sauce and set aside until you use it. This pavlova is a wonderful pudding for entertaining, because all the prep can be done a day or even two beforehand, with the assembly taking mere seconds just before you serve.
To assemble the pavlova, load the meringue base with vanilla ice cream balls. (TIP: Scoop your ice cream balls beforehand and place them on a lined baking sheet in the freezer until you use them. So much easier and firmer too, so it holds up better when you assemble the pavlova.)
Spoon the plums and Pinotage sauce over the ice cream and serve. The plums can be cold or room temperature. But my preference is heating them in the sauce ever so slightly – the contrast of the slightly warm plums melting into the ice cream on this pavlova is simply delightful.
You can also replace the ice cream with sweetened whipped cream or, as I have done here, a 50/50 mixture of sweetened whipped cream and full cream plain yoghurt. But to be honest, ice cream wins hands down for me. Enjoy!