The History Of Harvest

The customs, traditions and delicious recipes

An annual festival that occurs at the beginning of autumn, once the summer growth season has come to an end, Harvest is a time for celebrating the bounty of nature with a feast of flavours. From its origins in history, the fine produce gathered for celebration and the traditional recipes for a Harvest banquet, discover everything you need to know about Harvest below.
Hampson Woods
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A Harvest crop reaping, around 1897.

Harvest's History

The term ‘Harvest’ originates from the Old English word hærfest, meaning ‘Autumn’. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products from the land. Given the differences in climate and crops around the world, Harvests can be found at various times at different places. Harvest festivals typically feature feasting, with foods that are drawn from crops that come to maturity around the time of the festival, merriment, contests and music.

In Britain, we have celebrated Harvest since pagan times, with Harvest festivals traditionally held on the Sunday nearest to the autumn equinox (22 or 23 September). The celebrations on this day usually include singing hymns, and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food, to give thanks for the bounty that nature has provided.

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Harvesting potatoes, around 1920.

The time of Harvest is one of the most important phases of the agricultural calendar, since it marks a point in time when the crops have grown into maturity and are ready to be gathered in. The period in late summer, just before the Harvest, was traditionally a time of limited food supply and often famine, due to poor harvests the preceding season or an inability to store food from the last harvest.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that Harvest became a time of celebration and festivals, for they heralded the end of seasonal famine and ushered in a time of plenty.

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Reaping & Preserving For Winter

Before the days of refrigerators and freezers being the norm, jarring, drying and preserving food was more than just a delightful hobby, it was one of the few ways of storing food during the cold season or a long journey by sea or land. Today, freezing food is the quickest and most convenient method of preserving food, however drying some vegetables and preserving certain fruits can produce some interesting and unique new flavours:

  • Drying - fruits and vegetables that dry well include tomatoes, peppers and apples. Drying can dramatically alter the flavour and texture of the fruit or vegetable (such as sun-dried tomatoes) and they can make interesting additions to dishes. Simply wash and thinly slice your fruit or vegetable and arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking tray. Traditionally this would be left outside over long sunny days to dry out. An easier method is to set your oven to its lowest temperature setting (130C) and leave the trays in for several hours until the pieces have shrunk in size and are almost crispy. Once dry, store the pieces in a sterile, airtight container and consume within a few weeks.
  • Preserving - The word preserve is often used as an umbrella for all sorts of preserved fruit spreads. More often than not, the term is used to refer to preserved whole fruit or fruit cut into large sized pieces, which is then stored in its own juices or syrup. The storage liquid is typically clear-ish and is often slightly gelled, by adding pectin to the liquid. All sorts of fruits preserve well, such as peaches, apricots, raspberries and strawberries. Read more about the different types of preserves here.

Harvest Recipes

Take advantage of the autumn Harvest with these hearty recipes, featuring fresh seasonal produce such as butternut squash, sprigs of sage, sweet baby carrots and much more, all availble in our Piccadilly store Food Hall.

Hélène Darroze's ‘Mimi’s Tagine’ Recipe

Recently Hélène Darroze hosted an intimate Supper Club in The Fountain restaurant at Fortnum's, and in honour of this extraordinary culinary experience we asked Hélène to share a favourite recipe of hers. Named for Mimi, a very close friend of Hélène’s who was like a second mother to her, this tagine exudes autumnal flavour and is perfect for serving at any Harvest themed dinner party.

Hélène Darroze


Serves Six
For The Dish
2 shoulders of suckling lamb
2 green zucchini and 2 yellow zucchini
6 baby carrots
1 butternut squash
12 Medjool dates
12 dried apricots
30g of currants
50g of dried chickpeas
80g of semolina couscous
½ litre of chicken jus
50g of almonds
2 sprigs of coriander
10cl olive oil
Salt and Espelette pepper
For The Marinade
2 yellow onions
4 cloves of garlic
5g of coriander seeds
4 green cardamom seeds
3g of Espelette pepper
5g of ras el hanout powder
50g fresh ginger
5 branches of fresh coriander
3 sprigs of sage
5 bay leaves
10cl olive oil
10cl dry white wine

Preparation Method

  • The day before cooking place the lamb shoulders in a dish and rub with ras el hanout, then add the remaining marinade ingredients to the dish and refrigerate overnight, also placing the dried chickpeas in cold water to soak.
  • The following day remove the meat from the marinade and drain the chickpeas, placing them to one side. Peel the carrots and squash, making sure to deseed the squash, and then cut the carrots and squash into large pieces.
  • Place the shoulder of lamb into a large tagine and cover with olive oil, season with salt and set aside.
  • Pour the marinade and carrots into a heavy bottom pan, add salt and fry for 5 minutes to soften the carrots. Place the mixture into the tagine, adding the couscous and chickpeas then place the lamb shoulders on top. Pour in the chicken stock so that it comes up to the brim without covering the meat.
  • Close the tagine with the lid and cook in a preheated oven at 140 ° C for 2 hours, adding further chicken stock during cooking if necessary.
  • 30 minutes before the end of cooking, add the zucchini, squash, dates, dried apricots cut in half and raisins that have been swelled in a little water.
  • 5 minutes before serving, add the almonds and finish cooking without the lid so that they roast.
  • Serve hot sprinkled with fresh coriander.
Hélène Darroze

Butternut squash soup with chilli & crème fraîche

A hearty soup that’s packed with flavour, the base of butternut squash provides a hint of sweetness, whilst the mild chillies add a touch of heat. A perfect lunchtime recipe for keeping warm as the colder months approach.


Serves four
1 butternut squash, about 1kg, peeled and deseeded
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 onions, diced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
850ml hot vegetable stock

Preparation Method

  • Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Cut the squash into large cubes, about 4cm/1½in across, then toss in a large roasting tin with half the olive oil. Roast for 30 mins, turning once during cooking, until golden and soft.
  • While the squash cooks, melt the butter with the remaining oil in a large saucepan, then add the onions, garlic and ¾ of the chilli. Cover and cook on a very low heat for 15-20 mins until the onions are completely soft.
  • Tip the squash into the pan, add the stock and the crème fraîche, then whizz with a stick blender until smooth. For a really silky soup, put the soup into a liquidiser and blitz it in batches. Return to the pan, gently reheat, then season to taste. Serve the soup in bowls with swirls of crème fraîche and a scattering of the remaining chopped chilli.
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