As Halloween gets bigger and bigger in the UK, it’s worth remembering that pumpkins are a deeply delicious culinary ingredient as well as providing exciting carving opportunities. 2014 was a good year for gourds due to the settled spring (good for pollination) and long, sunny September days. In fact, there are so many varieties you really can be spoilt for choice.
If you have youngsters fixated on carving, remember those Halloween lanterns provide much discarded flesh which can always be used in recipes. Bear in mind, though, that as a general rule of thumb (a bony, warty witch’s thumb of course!), those enormous pumpkins of Cinderella coach proportions are usually less flavoursome than their smaller, richer cousins.
Here are some pumpkins and squash that are grown in Surrey and Sussex (see below for our “Where to buy” guide):
Acorn Squash – as the name suggests, acorn squash is shaped like an acorn but is larger, weighing up to 1kg. The golden flesh is firm and has a nutty flavour. It can be steamed, boiled or baked. A great one for stuffing – allow half a large squash per person or a whole one if small.
Atlantic Giant – really big, impressive specimens which are best suited for carving and Halloween displays.
Gem Squash - small and round, about the size of a large grapefruit. Its deep green skin sets it apart from other squashes and it has a pleasantly sweet flavour.
Howden – these are big pumpkins, very good for carving.
Munchkins – tiny miniature pumpkins (only around 10cm wide), the munchkin is a rich orange colour and some say they are the best flavoured of the small pumpkins. Certainly, their small size makes them ideal for serving up whole at dinner parties – just slice off the top, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with English rapeseed oil and roast for around 45 minutes, until tender. You can also roast the seeds (dip them in water first to stop them from burning then dip in a little salt) and scatter them over the pumpkins.
Onion Squash – smooth, orange skinned winter squash, with a rich, almost chestnut flavour. Also known as red kuri squash. Good for a variety of culinary uses including roasting, in curries and in soups.
Pie Star – another culinary gem, so named because it’s brilliant in pumpkin pie.
Spaghetti Squash – ranging from pale ivory to shades of orange and yellow, this squash gets its name because when it’s cooked the flesh falls away from the fruit in strands like spaghetti. It is good baked, boiled or steamed – some people serve it as a gluten-free substitute for pasta.
Sweet Dumpling Pumpkins – yellow skinned and fairly small, sweet dumpling pumpkins are ideal for stuffing and roasting.
Tom Thumb – small and richly flavoured, a bit like the munchkins only larger.
A few places to buy locally-grown pumpkins in Surrey (do check availability before setting out):
*PRIORY FARM, NUTFIELD (home grown Howden, Atlantic Giant, Tom Thumb, Pie Star, Acorn Squash)
*GARSONS FARM, ESHER (home grown racer pumpkins and Turks Turban, Onion Squash, Gem Squash, Kabocha and Butternut)
*CROCKFORD BRIDGE FARM, WEYBRIDGE for home-grown pumpkins from the pumpkin patch
THE NAKED GROCER, WALTON-ON-THAMES (a good selection of local pumpkins)
*= PYO subject to availability
A few places to buy locally-grown pumpkins and squash in Sussex:
WESTONS FARM SHOP, ITCHINGFIELD near Horsham (lots from small culinary pumpkins including mini Pie Star right up to monsters - as big as a small child). Grown right there at the farm with a lovely display outside the farm shop.
HORROCKS OF WEST WITTERING has a good range of Sussex grown pumpkins including munchkins, onion squash, spaghetti squash and sweet dumpling pumpkins
TUPPENNY BARN ORGANICS OF SOUTHBOURNE has what they call “large, beautiful butternuts” but not pumpkins this year
SLINDON FORGE near ARUNDEL offers a vast array of pumpkins and squashes and at Slindon Pumpkins there's an amazing pumpkin art display (visit SlindonPumpkins.co.uk for further details)