We are in the depths of autumn and Halloween is upon us but who knows what sort of guise things will take this year. What I do know however is over the last six months, lots of blood, sweat and tears have gone into creating pumpkin patches up and down the county. Most of which opened last week, coinciding with the October holidays.
Pumpkins are not the easiest fruit to grow. I know. They are however without doubt the best thing we grew during lockdown but they are fussy plants a bit like small children around the kitchen table. Not too much rain, lots of manure, keep them sheltered from the rain and keep the slugs off the patch. Easier said than done when you live in the west of Scotland.
We lost a lot but these plants, which grow at a monstrous rate and will quickly take over the garden are such fun to grow with children, along with potatoes and sunflowers, and we did successfully grow three crown prince pumpkin fruits. It’s a culinary pumpkin variety I was inspired to grow after visiting Russell and Lucy Calder at Kilduff Farm last year. A steely blue colour on the outside and a beautiful turmeric colour on the inside. Nutty and sweet you can eat the flesh, seeds and skin.
Since June I have been lucky enough to be working along side them. Their passion about food and farming is addictive and we all share a desire to connect children more to the countryside and help educate everyone more about where their food comes from. The patch to plate idea is a great way to communicate this and a pumpkin revolution is well underway.
They really are on a mission to get more of us cooking and eating pumpkins and reduce the terrifying amount of food waste associated with pumpkins, which comes around every Halloween. All pumpkins are edible, but culinary pumpkins, which Lucy and Russell are growing are one of the most delicious, nutritious and versatile ingredients I have cooked with. They are also developing a range of recipes, which I have contributed to, which will stop anyone in their tracks who may just chuck their pumpkin out on November 1st.
Pumpkins might be associated with Northern America, but due to increasing climates over the last few years pumpkin patches across farms in the UK are on the rise, gaining huge popularity but still 18000 tonnes of pumpkin waste ends in landfill. That is a lot of pie.
Their alluring colours and shapes provide warmth as winter creeps closer. And they can keep into the new year as long as they are not damaged, providing an abundance of comforting dishes for the cold months ahead. Something I think you can agree we all need at the moment.
So if you haven’t grown pumpkin before I really do recommend you give it ago next Spring. Order you seeds now, to plant in April. The Crown Prince variety or the Tractor variety would be worth the effort.
However before we start planning ahead to next year and drawing a close to the garden in 2020, wrapping a big warm blanket around it there is still much to be done.
1. Make a hedgehog house by cutting a whole in a plastic box, covering it with a bin liner and covering the bin liner with twigs and pieces of tree. Add some leaves inside and keep it close to a hole in your garden fence.
2. Collect fallen leaves, put in a bin liner and add holes to the bottom of the liner. Tie it up and keep it in a cool dark place until next year and you will have perfect mulch for your beds and borders to keep them warm over winter. A great way to occupy the kids!
3. Plant garlic bulbs now while the ground is still warm and easy to work with.
4. Between now and December plant daffodils, tulips and allium bulbs. Something to look forward to and provide hope and you will be rewarded with a burst of colour come spring.
Who doesn’t love a one pot dinner. Nothing quite beats it and when you throw sausages into the mix, especially in my house with three small but hungry boys (and one large one!) you are on to a winner. Quick and super easy to create and super tasty. The perfect mid week supper and some good quality sourdough is highly recommended to mop up the juices at the end.
1. Begin by pre heating the oven to 180C and place 10 good quality sausages on a large baking tray and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile peel and chop three white onions into chunks and core and chop two large red apples. You will also need 6 cloves of garlic.
3. Cut one medium sized pumpkin in half. I have used the Crown Prince variety. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Use one half and cut into similar sized chunks. Use the other half for a soup.
4. Once the sausages are ready, add the apples, onions, garlic and pumpkin to the tray making sure that everything is evenly spaced out and not on top of one and other. Scatter a handful of pumpkin seeds over the top.
5. In a small bowl add 3 – 4 tbsp of olive oil together with 4 tsp of honey and mix well. Drizzle all over the ingredients. Bake in the oven at 180c for 40 – 45 minutes and turn everything half way through.
6. 10 minutes from the end add a good handful of blackberries for an extra autumnal blast.
What says Autumn more than a bowl of piping warm roasted pumpkin soup. It is essentially a hug in a bowl. Something we are deserving of at the moment.
1. Use one half of a medium sized crown prince pumpkin. Leave the skin on, remove the seeds and cut into chunks. This helps the pumpkin keep it’s shape. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in a pre heated oven at 180c for 40 minutes
2. Meanwhile peel and finely dice two white onions and fry in butter with 1tsp of cumin seeds for at least 15 minutes on a low heat being careful not to burn the onions
3. Once the pumpkin has been roasted, remove the skin (you can then snack on it!) and add the pumpkin flesh to the onions.
4. Add 1.5 litres of good quality vegetable or chicken stock. Bring to the boil.
5. Add 1 tbsp. of Garam Masala and 1tsp. of cinnamon and allow to simmer on a low heat for 20minutes. Blitz until smooth and serve with pumpkin seeds on top!
And some exciting news. In the coming weeks I have a new podcast about to launch. Grow, Cook, Inspire, aims to get more people growing and connecting people, whether they are 5 or 85 to the countryside and educating us more about where are food comes from. Highlighting the benefits of gardening for body and mind there will also be a recipe in each episode.