Get those skeletons out of the cupboard and hang them proudly on your doors, it’s time to get the Halloween party started. Since pumpkins are so central to the festivities, I thought I’d make some pumpkin recommendations for a truly enjoyable All Hallows Eve.
A fun and family-friendly tradition is to make your own jack o’lantern. What you may not realise is that there’s a huge variety of pumpkins to choose from in an array of sizes, colours and shapes and that different kinds are suitable for different things. You can get them from garden centres, local supermarkets and even farm shops and specialist growers these days—they’re everywhere.
If you want a classic football-sized pumpkin with a bright orange rind that’s easy to carve, you can’t go wrong with the aptly-named ‘Jack O’Lantern’ cultivar. They’ll bring a spooky smile to your lips.
For larger, more impressive lanterns, the ‘Howden’ and ‘Harvest Jack’ varieties are perfect—they take a bit more emptying out because of their size but, if you have the patience, the pay off is literally huge.
Pop them in your front window and—as tradition has it—you’ll keep all the ghosts and ghouls at bay.
For more unusual varieties to carve, go for ‘Red Warty Thing,’ whose skin is covered in ghastly blood-red lumps, ‘Casper’ whose rind is a pale and frightful ghostly white or ‘Kakai’ which is classic Halloween orange streaked with slime green. A mixture of these perched on your front porch makes for a truly ghoulish display.
A top tip if you’re using a real candle in your lantern is to punch a hole in the lid. This allows free airflow and lets your candle burn bright. If you have young kids like me or you’re planning to leave your lantern nestled in straw, you might opt for a flickering LED candle instead. This gives off atmospheric light to rival the real deal without the fire risk.
Young children may not have the patience for carving large varieties of pumpkin but they can still join in the fun with miniature cultivars. My kids love the speckled orange ‘Hooligan’ and ribbed white ‘Baby Boo’ cultivars.
These can be hollowed out and carved or simply painted with spooky designs and displayed in windows to ward off evil spirits. My two, who are too young to be let loose with a knife, draw designs onto their pumpkins with a felt tip and I cut them out.
That way, they get to make their own lanterns safely.
The flesh and seeds of most pumpkins are extremely nutritious, containing a huge number of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants. So don’t just throw them away! Seeds can be roasted with garlic powder and salt for a mouth-watering savoury snack or stirred into molten salt caramel for a sticky toffee sweet.
If you mould this into globes and pop in wooden kebab sticks, you’ll have the perfect offering for neighbourhood trick-or-treaters too. The seeds of the ‘Kakai’ variety are particularly good for eating as they have no hard outer shell, unlike other varieties, so if you’re carving one of these, be sure not to miss out!
You can also use the flesh of the pumpkin to make tasty foods. Favourites in my household include warming pumpkin soup with crushed garlic, carrots and smoky bacon for seeing off the chill after an autumn walk and spiced pumpkin loaf with fragrant cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger as an accompaniment to an afternoon cuppa by the fire.
You can also make gingerbread and pumpkin biscuits iced with ghoulish designs or try the American classic of pumpkin pie served with vanilla bean ice-cream for a tasty after dinner treat.
Either buy a pumpkin specifically for cooking or make use of the flesh of your jack o’lantern in a few days’ time—the stringy innards aren’t enough on their own to give your home cooking that distinctive pumpkin punch.
Some pumpkins are better for eating than others, so bear this in mind. Larger pumpkins tend to have less flavour than smaller ones and those with stringy flesh are less pleasant to eat. The ‘Sweet Sugar Pie’ and ‘Red Warty Thing’ varieties have fine-textured sweet flesh that is ideal for baking into pies and biscuits.
‘Cinderella’ and ‘Fairytale’ pumpkins are the shape of Cinderella’s carriage and have thick, ribbed rinds. This makes them hard to turn into jack o’lanterns but fantastic in soups and breads.
If you don’t fancy carving your own lantern, you could always decorate with interesting-looking whole pumpkins over Halloween and eat your decorations later. For ornamental pumpkins that make for incredible home cooking, choose the dead man’s blue of the ‘Blue Prince’ cultivar or the other-worldly fruit of the ‘Turk’s Turban’ variety. If kept at a cool room temperature, pumpkins will keep for months.
Hopefully all this has tickled your pumpkin fancy in time for the big day.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Can I grow my own mushrooms?
You can buy mushroom growing kits from your local garden centre or online. They come with specialist mushroom compost and detailed growing instructions. Grow them indoors in a shaded area—such as under the stairs or in the cellar—and keep them moist and you’ll soon have a bumper crop of fantastic fresh mushrooms for home cooking.
How can I protect my Cyclamen from mould?
Indoor Cyclamen are prone to grey mould, which can ultimately kill the plant. To avoid it, water Cyclamen from below, pinch off dead plant material as soon as it appears and ensure good air circulation around the plant. Also make sure not to let them stand in water. This will make conditions less favourable to grey mould and keep the plant healthy.