Back in the mists of time Halloween meant carving turnips into lanterns, sticking a candle in the middle, eating toffee apples and dunking for apples.
Now, like every other event in the calendar, houses are decorated, supermarkets have been hard selling sweets and dressing up outfits since August and the whole thing has become Americanised.
Don’t get me started on trick or treating – October 31st is the night I turn off all the lights and pretend not to be in.
Dunking for apples has become outlawed in certain places due to health and safety. Personally carving a hard turnip and holding my breath under water made me the woman I am today. I’m very grateful for the real childhood I had. The only time you saw a pumpkin was in the Ladybird Cinderella book. Now supermarkets are teeming with them, alongside pumpkin carving kits. The variety of gourd in the shops is a thin skinned one that makes it easy to carve. Don’t think about eating them as they taste of absolutely nothing.
If you want proper, well grown sweet pumpkins you have to source them from someone who grows the culinary variety. Charlie Cole at Broughgammon Farm outside Ballycastle has grown some beautiful Kuri pumpkin this year. They’re dark green on the outside and rich orange inside. The pumpkin is hard to cut because they’ve taken the time to grow them properly. Frank McCook at Slemish Market Garden in Ballymena grows many different types at this time of year. His daughter in law, Lori is originally from Virginia in the United States and knows her onions when it comes to growing pumpkins. My favourite is Crown Prince – a duck egg blue shell that belies a sweet, vibrant, deep orange flesh. They also grow Kuri, onion squash, Kabocha,Turk’s turban, acorn squash and many more. The sight of them all lined up is truly magnificent and worth the trip to Ballymena alone.
The first recipe this week is for pumpkin with pasta, flavoured with sage and bacon. Because culinary pumpkin is sweet the bitterness of the sage cuts through this and the bacon adds a salty balance. The whole dish is baked until bubbling and golden – the perfect food for a cold autumnal evening.
When I lived in America pumpkin pie was one of the foods I really couldn’t stomach. It was just too one dimensional and not very pleasant. My other recipe is for a sweet pumpkin one but scones and not a pie. Pumpkin puree is whizzed into a scone mix and the warm nutmeg spiced scones are served with a maple and orange whipped butter.
Thankfully good pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween anymore. This beautiful food is too good not to enjoy all year round.