It is the season of fog, of gentle fertility – and Pumpkins. Whether piled high in supermarkets or in a huge wooden box at the weekly market in Mitchelstown, pumpkins have become an omnipresent part of the autumn experience. But it wasn’t always like that. Growing up in the 80s, our jack-o-lanterns were carved from beets (or potatoes when my mother refused to hand over the vegetables that night), very much in keeping with the old Irish festival of Samhain.
Long before I started wrestling with a beet on Halloween, Irish immigrants took the old tradition of carving scary faces into vegetables to America and discovered that pumpkins were much easier to work with. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the big, orange monsters began to invade Irish homes, albeit – at that point – perhaps not yet into our kitchens.
We didn’t know what we were missing. Pumpkin – pulp, seeds, skin, and even leaves – is low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. The light color is a signal that it contains a lot of beta-carotene. This powerful antioxidant turns into vitamin A in the body – an essential vitamin for eye health.
Pumpkins are also high in vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system – especially necessary at this time of year – fiber and potassium, all of which help support healthy blood pressure.
The nutrient-rich pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, roasted (my favorite), mashed, stuffed, seasoned or sweetened – and most importantly, it tastes great. Extremely versatile in the kitchen, the mild taste of the pumpkin works in many recipes.
There’s a fine line between pumpkin and pumpkin. Pumpkins are basically hard-skinned winter pumpkins, all of which belong to the genus Cucurbita.
“There’s an endless debate about whether our favorite Crown Prince is a pumpkin or a pumpkin,” says Michael Kelly of GIY Ireland. “But either way, it’s brilliant – delicious, sweet meat and ghostly blue skin. We also like the Rouge Vif d’Tampes variety, a huge rather squat-looking orange pumpkin.
“We generally grow some of the monster pumpkins, they are like a little car when they are fully grown – but they are pure show and not very tasty.”
And don’t forget, Kelly adds: “All of the fruit is edible after cooking – skin, seeds and pulp”.
Pumpkins are ubiquitous in the U.S. at this time of year, with supermarkets like Trader Joe known for adding pumpkin to almost anything – pumpkin-flavored cream cheese, waffles, and overnight oats – while Starbucks has its famous pumpkin and spice latte.
Aside from off-the-shelf products, pumpkins can be turned into many delicious dishes at home. Pumpkin makes a great base for gnocchi or lasagna, it can be roasted for salads or stuffed in ravioli, curryed in a curry, made into soups and baked into bread, or divided and stuffed to create a vegetable centerpiece.
But don’t just look for ideas in America – pumpkins are hugely popular in New Zealand and Australia too. Kitchen bible cooking techniques and recipe ideas.(Lantern) by Australian writer Stephanie Alexander has a chapter that demystifies what she calls “an everyday type of vegetable” with information on varieties,
For the many dedicated home growers out there, GIY’sby Michael Kelly and Muireann Ní Chíobháin is a great source for sowing, growing and harvesting.
Pumpkins come in many different shapes and sizes, with the crown pumpkin being the best all-rounder for taste and texture. So it’s worth experimenting to see what you like. Many varieties are interchangeable for cooking. That said, lantern-style pumpkins are generally grown for carving rather than eating, but that doesn’t mean we have to disregard the innards.
If you are planning on carving Halloween, first scoop up the seeds and remove the thread-like pieces. Throw the seeds in some oil, salt, and your favorite seasonings (smoked paprika is especially good) and roast them at 180 ° C for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Dig up any accessible pumpkin meat and use it in cooking or baking.
If you’re looking for well-prepared pumpkins in Waterford, Ardkeen is the place to go for vegetables that are locally grown for taste reasons. Pumpkins from Garraí Mara, Máiréad Costin’s nursery in An Rinn, are now in stock. www.ardkeen.com
The Food Hall in Dublin city center always has a great display of pumpkins, many of them Irish cultivated, including some monsters that it sources from the founders of the Sullivan family at Giant Pumpkins Ireland. Fallon & Byrne also import cans of pumpkin puree from the United States and make highly sought-after pumpkin pies. www.fallonandbyrne.com
Galway’s Green Earth Organics Farm is running a nationwide vegetable crate scheme that includes the orange, pear-shaped Uchi Kuri this season. www.greenearthorganics.ie
Home of the irresistible chips of the same name in East Cork, Joe’s Farm began growing pumpkins in 2018 and their pumpkin picking experience has become incredibly popular. It’s a real farm walk so make sure you wear rubber boots and don’t miss the chance to stock up on cheese, chicken, eggs, veggies, and chips at the farm shop. Joesfarmcrisps.de
From Horizon Farm in Kinsale, Clonmel’s Kilmanahan Castle Organics, Purple Squirrel Farm in Doneraile, and Beechlawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe, neighborhood food markets across the country are great places to find your own local pumpkin grower. www.neighbourfood.ie
An organic farm with eco-accommodation that also hosts a weekly farmers market and grows a range of pumpkins each year including Kabocha, Red Kuri and Jack o’lantern for 2021. rockfarmslane.ie
This is good to use in pumpkin bread, for baby food, as a filling for ravioli or in lasagna.
1 medium pumpkin
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180 ° C / gas mark 4. Choose a medium-sized pumpkin – not one of the monsters – and carefully cut it in half. Remove the pulp and seeds (bake separately) and coat the cut side with a little oil.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the pumpkin with the cut side down and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the pumpkin is razor-sharp.
Peel off the skin, put the pulp in a food processor and stir until smooth. Freeze puree in 425g bags, as this is the most common amount required in a recipe.
Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels.
There is no damage to pumpkin in making this spice blend, but it’s a fantastic combination to have on hand when baking
- Put all ingredients in an airtight jar, put the lid on and shake well. Use it with anything pumpkin related like muffins, cakes, pancakes – and even lattes.
Photo by Eva Elijas at Pexels.