Forget jack-o’-lanterns, Alex Rushmer has delicious plans for the abundance of pumpkins in his vegetable patch
We are fortunate enough to have a decent-sized vegetable patch in the back garden. Over the summer it has offered up some pretty delicious morsels: fresh purple beans, marble-sized Charlotte potatoes, punchy rocket leaves and a great many squash blossoms. I should add, at this juncture, that the productivity of the garden has virtually nothing to do with me. I’ve tried to enjoy gardening, I really have and, at a push, I can get excited about the vaguely destructive side of it: digging down, heaving earth from one place to another, chopping down a tree or finding a creeping ivy’s taproot in order to prevent it slowly suffocating its prey. But planting, pruning, weeding and waiting – these require a level of patience that is beyond me. I want a more instant gratification. Thankfully, my wife has fingers that are considerably greener than my own and has transformed our small garden into a hive of productivity.
This is even more true in relation to the pumpkin patch. It is usually courgettes that spread and sprawl inexorably over the garden, their trailing arms covering the lawn and bare earth until it becomes almost impossible to spy the shiny fruits, until it is too late and the unmistakable sheen of a giant marrow is visible under the low canopy of leaves. But this year, it is pumpkins that have taken over. Within days of the heavy August rains, the small green fruits, no bigger than a child’s fist, had swelled into pale beach balls. Even now, they continue to grow as they slowly ripen in the raised bed, on the lawn or wherever they have ended up. These aren’t Halloween pumpkins, overgrown, gnarly, watery and orange. They return a resonant hollow sound, like a woodblock, when tapped with a crooked knuckle. Their skin is pale green and gently mottled like unpolished jade. And there are many of them.
‘Pumpkins do have the benefit of being pretty battle-hardy’
Finding something to do with such a surfeit is always going to be a challenge. At this time of year the mind does wander to chutney and the potential for home-made Christmas gifts but a brief look through the cupboard reveals a veritable library of carefully labelled preserves, in a variety of scrawls, dating back several years. There really is only so much chutney one can eat in any given year.
Pumpkins do have the benefit of being pretty battle-hardy. They can remain in an apparent stasis for several months during autumn and winter, if kept cool and dry, ready to be called upon in times of need. Those we have growing at the moment have developed a fairly tough armour, best tackled with a bread knife and then diced into fair-sized chunks before being cooked.
The pumpkin spiced latte may well be a creation from the depths of the most depraved marketeers’ soul, but the inspiration is sound: a bowl or mug of gently spiced soup is wholesome and delicious, ideal for taking the chill off after an autumnal walk. But it is with more robust spicing when pumpkin really shines. I have fond memories of a wonderful – and very spicy – pumpkin curry eaten in Sri Lanka a few years ago. And although I haven’t been able to recreate the dish in its full glory, each attempt gets a little closer. In addition to the expected spices: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and chilli – mustard seed and curry leaf lend an unmistakably Sri Lankan flavour to the dish which is simmered in a rich gravy made almost entirely from coconut milk, perfect as those evenings draw in. Maybe we will be able to use all those pumpkins after all.