A pumpkin is a squash fruit, most commonly orange in colour when ripe. Pumpkins, like gourds, and other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family , which also includes cucumbers, gherkins, and melons.
The pumpkin varies greatly in form, being sometimes nearly globular, but more generally oblong or ovoid in shape. The rind is smooth and variable in colour. The larger kinds acquire a weight of 40 to 80 lb (18 to 36 kg) but smaller varieties are in vogue for garden culture. Pumpkins are a popular food, with their insides commonly eaten cooked and served in dishes such as pumpkin pie. The seeds can be roasted for a nice snack, they are traditionally used to carve Jack-o'-lanterns for use as part of Halloween celebrations.
Botanically it is a fruit, referring to a certain plant part which grows from a flower. However it is widely regarded as a vegetable in culinary terms, referring to how it is eaten.
History of Halloween
A pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern is without a doubt the most recognizable symbol of Halloween. But what are the origins of this activity? To find out we must look at the history of the holiday itself.
For most of the general population it is known as Halloween and is a night for dressing up, telling ghost stories, having spooky parties, trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving. However, Halloween is actually based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow wan"), which means "summer's end".
It was the end of the Celtic year, starting at sundown on October 31st and going through to sundown November 1st. This was a night to honour loved ones that had passed on, as it was believed that the gate between their realm and ours is at it's most open on that night.
Celebrated for centuries by the Celts of old, Witches and many other nature based religions, it is the most magical night of the year. It is the Witches' New Year, and the Last Harvest. Although the religious significance of it has passed for the general public, Halloween is a "magical" night for all! On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits.
Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
1 large onion, chopped
1kg pumpkin, peeled and roughly chopped into even-sized chunks
450g sweet potatoes, roughly chopped into even-sized chunks
2 tsp ground coriander (optional)
1.5 litres vegetable stock
freshly ground pepper
1. In a large saucepan, heat the butter Once melted, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Add in the pumpkin, sweet potato and coriander, if using, mix well and fry for 1 minute.
3. Add the stock and season with freshly ground pepper.
4. Bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
5. Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Ladle into small soup bowls or serve in a scooped-out pumpkin shell.
Pumpkin and Bacon Gratin
4 x 200g wedges of pumpkin, with skin on
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 tbsp Butter
100g dry cured bacon or Pancetta, cut into lardons
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Onions, chopped
8-10 sage leaves
1 tbsp plain flour
400ml whole Milk
200g Cheddar Cheese
1 tsp Mustard, optional
2 egg yolks
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Scoop out the seeds from the pumpkin, but leave the skin on, and arrange in a greased roasting tray.
2. Drizzle the wedges with 1 tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake in the oven until tender – about 35 minutes. They should still hold their shape. Leave to cool until lukewarm.
3. Using a sharp paring or vegetable knife, peel the skins away from the cooked pumpkin flesh. Cut the pumpkin into 2-3cm chunks and tip into a casserole dish.
4. While the pumpkin is in the oven, start making the sauce. Heat the butter and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp. Add the garlic and onions and continue frying until softened – about 10 minutes.
5. Scatter over the sage leaves and tip everything into a bowl, leaving behind any fat in the pan. Leave on one side. Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5.
6. Return the same pan to a low heat and sprinkle the flour into the pan. You might need to add extra butter or oil if the mixture looks too dry – aim to have a slack paste. Cook for about a minute, stirring all the time.
7. Gradually pour in the milk and bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the cheese and mustard, and remove the pan from the heat.
8. Stir in the onion and bacon mixture and whisk in the egg yolks. Pour the sauce all over the pumpkin and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the top of the baked dish is golden.
Spiced Roast Pumpkin
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
1kg pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cubed
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
generous pinch of Chilli powder, or more to taste
3-4 tbsp Olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5.
2. Put the pumpkin cubes on a baking tray, spreading them out well in a single layer.
3. Using a pestle and mortar, grind together the coriander and fennel seeds, chilli powder and sea salt.
4. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the pumpkin, tossing to coat.
5. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat and toss again.
6. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and caramelised.
Spiced Roast Pumpkin Dip
Preparation Time: 15 minutes, plus a few minutes cooling time
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
1kg pumpkin or butternut squash
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Chilli powder
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6. Peel the pumpkin or squash and discard the seeds, pith and stem. Cut into bite-sized pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the garlic cloves, olive oil, cumin, chilli powder and some salt and pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly with the spices.
2. Spread over the base of a roasting in and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the pumpkin is nicely browned and very tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
3. Transfer the contents of the roasting tin to a mixing bowl or food processor and purée until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve warm or cold, with crackers, oatcakes, bread or crudités, or as a vegetable side dish.