It never occurred to me to decorate a pumpkin at Halloween any other way than carving it, but Melissa from the Empress of Dirt blog recently published a post calling for entries to a pumpkin decorating competition where pumpkins are embellished rather than sculptured and it seems such a great idea.
If you’ve ever carved pumpkins you’ll have noticed how quickly they go mouldy inside, yet when they’re left in one piece they’ll last for months, which is great if you’re wondering what you can cook up after the festive season that’s cheap, cheerful and healthy.
We usually carve one or two pumpkins at Halloween to hold tea lights on the windowsills, but I’ve friends and neighbours with several dotted around their homes and gardens. That’s a lot of pumpkin flesh to use up or freeze at a busy time of year. Embellishing the pumpkins can give you the best of both worlds – a decorated squash in October that you can eat at Christmas.
I opted for a natural, ‘green man’ look with the giant community garden squash that will be on display at Savour Kilkenny (using a glue gun to stick everything to the pumpkin).
If you’re in Kilkenny this weekend and would like to see it, the Kilkenny Community Garden Network will have a stand in the Leader Partnership marquee on Sunday, where we’ll be selling this seasons chutneys and jams, made by the gardeners from produce mostly sown and grown in Callan community garden this year.
I was planning to make an autumn door wreath but haven’t managed to, yet this seems to make up for it. Our eldest daughter wasn’t so keen on my ‘green’ pumpkin as she couldn’t see its orange skin behind the leaves but Mr G loved it as he’s always been a Green Man fan.
What do you think? Could you be persuaded to hang on to your pumpkin a bit longer, embellish it and perhaps make a soup from its flesh or roast the seeds in a couple of months time, or are you a carving traditionalist, something that was after all, supposed to have originated in Ireland?
Not content with growing the vegetables, a couple of weeks ago I rashly gamely offered to demonstrate a few ways of cooking pumpkin flesh at Callan community garden as there’s little point in growing food if we don’t know how to prepare and eat it. It’s the first year we’ve grown a pumpkin patch there and as the fruit have swollen nicely, it seemed a good idea to demonstrate that there’s more to pumpkins than Halloween window decorations. I’m sure many of us are, or have been guilty of discarding the flesh we scoop out and it seems such a waste of good food. In the shops and farmers markets, pumpkins are coming into season and are a vegetable/fruit that will store for months in a cool, dry environment, making them a fantastic winter staple.
Not only do pumpkins make great decorations, they are extremely good for us, containing over 200% of our recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, the vitamin that’s good for our eye sight, they’re rich in fibre, contain very few calories and are great for helping to lower cholesterol among other things.
I’m a family cook who likes a recipe in front of me (even though I stray from it quite regularly) which therefore resulted in a very informal cookery session at the family resource centre where everyone helped with the prepping and washing up, before gathering to share the food presented. I chose two safe, tried and tasted savoury pumpkin recipes using the flesh from one medium-sized pumpkin, as well as a roasted seed recipe that you can find below. I also demonstrated how to make courgette cake, a recipe I’ve talked about on several occasions but gardeners had yet to try. The courgette cake recipe can be found here and the basic soup and delicately flavoured pumpkin rice recipes here. I’m afraid there’s no photos as I was too busy cooking.
If you’d like to try cooking pumpkins this year, as well as the recipes linked above that I cooked for the group, I’ve added a few variations of soup at the bottom of the post from some fellow garden bloggers.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
225g pumpkin seeds
2 tbls salt
1 tblsp olive oil
Heat oven to 20oºC/Gas 6/400ºF
Remove the ‘lid’ of the pumpkin at the stalk end by cutting a disk shape around the top with a sharp knife. Scoop out the soft, seedy, fibrous flesh inside with a metal spoon and place into a colander, leaving the tougher flesh that’s around the inside of the pumpkin to tackle later for another recipe.
Pick out as many of the seeds as you can before sifting through the rest under a tap of running water. (Tip: do this holding the colander over a bowl and use the drained water for the plants or flush the toilet with it.)
Add the seeds, water and salt to a saucepan, bring to the boil then simmer for ten minutes or so to allow the seeds to soften.
Take off the heat, drain, pat the seeds dry with a clean tea towel then toss in the olive oil before placing on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast in the oven for around ten to twenty minutes, until the seeds brown.
Three Pumpkin Soup Recipes
Soup is such a versatile dish, quick to make and winter warming too. Here are some links to three variations of pumpkin soup you might like to try.
Pumpkin Decorating Contest from The Empress of Dirt
If you’d like to try your hand at decorating this year’s pumpkins with embellishments and not carving them, there’s a fun competition over on Melissa’s Empress of Dirt Blog where the winning entry could take on the illustrious title of Creator Of The Ultimate Pumpkin Head of 2014!
How many recipes can you come up with that use cucumber as the main ingredient (not counting cucumber sandwiches and salad)?
As a result of an almost overwhelming glut of cucumbers in Callan community garden (we’ve been averaging around six to ten for the past few weeks), I set the group the challenge of coming up with some different cucumber recipes. After a bit of homework, here’s what they arrived with on our Monday morning session.
1. Cucumber Soup
Maureen arrived with a tub of freshly made soup. We were a bit skeptical at the thought of eating cucumber flavoured soup as it’s something we tend to associate with cool dishes. Having tried the recipe that Maureen found in a Myrtle Allan cookbook, we all agreed, we’d think again. This was a surprisingly tasty vegetable soup! It basically contained some potato, carrot, stock, seasoning and cucumber and I’m looking forward to surprising my family and seeing if they can guess what the flavour is.
2. Sweet Cucumber Pickle
If sweet chutney is your thing then you’d love this recipe. Joan brought along a very tasty sample of a sweet cucumber pickle she made which we all enjoyed with some crackers. I didn’t manage to get the recipe from Joan on this occasion but Margaret from A Year in Redwood shares one over on her blog.
3. Cucumber and Apple Chutney
Siobhan turned up with a little jar of cucumber and apple chutney that went down a treat and we decided to add it to our chutney range during our joint preserving session with Freshford group. We’ll be showcasing several chutney and jams at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival on the 25th /26th October on The Parade. If you can’t make it to Kilkenny to sample the chutney, Siobhan has generously shared the recipe:
Siobhan’s Cucumber & Apply Chutney Recipe
1 kg cucumber, remove skin, seeds & finely chop
1 kg cooking apples, peeled, cored & finely chopped
650g onions, finely chopped
700mls cider vinegar
500g light brown sugar
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt & Pepper to taste
Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds (if a ridge variety, peel the skin off first), cut into small, bite sized pieces and place in a large saucepan with the finely diced apples, onions and vinegar. Bring to the boil then simmer until soft. Add the sugar, raisins, allspice, cayenne and season to taste. Simmer until the mixture is thick. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal. Chutney is best after it’s been left unopened for a month or so to allow the flavours to develop.
4. Cucumber Paté
Cucumber strips filled with a mackerel paté was the contribution I offered to the table having spotted a recipe online that came up with a similar combination. If you’d like to try this, peel the cucumber lengthways with a potato peeler and pat the strips dry on a clean tea towel. The bigger and straighter the cucumber the better. Drain the oil from a tin of mackerel fillets, then combine the fish with a small tub of soft cheese. It would be more usual to add a squeeze of lemon to the mixture but as I didn’t have any, added some freshly squeezed orange. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and it would be a really good recipe for anyone on a low-calorie diet looking for a different snack to try.
5. Cucumber Raita
This recipe didn’t turn up on the community garden table but is one I’ve made on several occasions to accompany the curries that Mr G likes to dish up. Just mix a large tub of organic yogurt with half a finely grated cucumber, some chopped fresh mint leaves and chopped chilli pepper to taste. It’s a good idea to grate the cucumber into a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess water before adding it to the yogurt.
Cucumber Slug Deterrent
Lastly, when I was doing my own research I found this cucumber slug deterrent on the Real Pharmacy website that lists 13 uses for cucumbers. It seemed too good a tip not to share:
Cut up a few slices of cucumber and pop them into small, aluminium pie dishes and leave them scattered around the garden (I’m guessing when it’s dry weather). Apparently the chemicals in the cucumber will react with the tin and give off a scent that will deter slugs from our gardens. Has anyone tried this? Certainly seems worth a go.
What do you think, would you try any of these dishes out or can share any of your own?
This is what happens when you take a couple of weeks off in the summer
We spent a quiet couple of months in the Callan and Freshford community gardens during the summer months with the long, lazy days ensuring we all managed to spend some down time. Now the children are back in school we’re firmly back in action in the gardens and have some exciting plans ahead. Having announced at the end of the 2013 Savour Kilkenny Food Festival that they never wanted to make, preserve and sell home-grown produce ever again, like the memories of childbirth, Callan gardeners seem to have forgotten all the painful bits and have not only announced they want to give Savour another go, they’ve invited the new Freshford gardeners over to the kitchen to help them make this year’s batch of preserves and get involved with the selling of them.
I’ve mentioned before how unique community gardens are with no two alike and the gardens in these two rural Kilkenny villages are no exception. Continue Reading…
One of the benefits of working in a group environment such as a community garden is the amount of experience and knowledge we gain working alongside one other, as well as learning how to get the most from each other’s strengths by working in a team. This is relevant to both community and work place gardens.
I’ve written some guidelines that you can refer to if you’re wondering what a community garden is or how to set one up, but if you’re already involved with a community garden and wondering how to get the best from it, Callan’s story might be of help to you.
For the past 18 months I’ve been funded by Kilkenny Leader Partnership to work with the group of gardeners, helping them to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as create an awareness of local food produce and it’s importance in the local economy. This project has also enabled us to create an opportunity for progressive development and sustainability by creating a mini enterprise.
Meeting for a couple of hours each week, we began in the autumn of 2012 with a short, basic theory led course where gardeners were introduced to vegetable families, crop rotation, soil requirements, the myriad of seed choices as well as the importance of incorporating wildlife into our gardens.
This gave the group a taster of the practical work that would follow in the more garden friendly months and in the spring of 2013, we started work outside on the very small space allocated to us.
A new gardener with the group learns about seed sowing as the more experienced members encouragingly watch on
In the autumn we spent less time weeding and sowing and more time cooking and preserving, as well as learning about selling and marketing an artisan food product. During that time I was able to work alongside the group, preparing pickles and chutneys from produce we’d grown from seed. Once labelled, over a 100 jars were taken to the three-day Savour Kilkenny Food Festival where they were proudly showcased and sold by the Callan and Goresbridge gardeners who’d helped to create them..
Kilkenny Community Garden Network Pickles & Preserves
The mini enterprise was a success in many ways as the gardeners were able to take part and see, first hand, everything involved in setting up and operating a small, local business. The money raised will help to fund further development projects planned for the garden..
The activity also allowed the gardeners to come to the decision that they much preferred to grow the vegetables and give them to friends and not to sell them! It wasn’t a process they all enjoyed and the group have a new respect for those that do it to make a full-time living. They also have an understanding why small business’ have to charge realistic prices based on time and quality of ingredients. As a result and following discussions with Olive Maher, the forward thinking manager of the resource centre, over the coming months we’ll be trying a different approach with the garden.
Gardeners learn about recycling & gardening
Plans have been made to build more high raised beds that can accommodate people with movement difficulties and due to the extra growing space, will enable the centre to run very relevant and beneficial workshops for the community, using the garden as the hub.
Dee : Photo Credit Catherine Drea
A basic budget cookery course is being planned that will use seasonal produce grown and harvested from the garden, as the core ingredients.
The feasibility of running a basic landscaping course, perhaps with some stonework, where participants will learn to make a seating area and outside barbecue/cooking area is also being considered.
The Family Resource Centre also plan to run a separate mini enterprise course for local people, again using produce grown in the garden.
These courses will be available to everyone in the local community at very reduced rates and the gardeners will have a choice on whether they wish to attend them or just continue working together in the garden and providing fresh produce for them. Lastly and perhaps most importantly in a community, the centre are planning a summer party for everyone who visits, volunteers or learns there and I will be working with the community gardeners to provide as much food as we can for that.
There are no hard and fast rules about community gardens – each one is unique. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to get the most from your garden and sometimes you have to adapt and change original plans, as in the case above.
Community gardens are however, excellent social levellers, creating excellent opportunities for people to integrate, interact, learn, work alongside one another and share; skills that are sometimes overlooked but are so necessary in functioning communities, workplaces, home and society in general.
This is it… total growing space for Callan community garden
School gardens are appearing in playgrounds everywhere and children are learning about where their food comes from.
From September to June, centres around the country are providing horticultural courses for adults as an informal pleasure activity and to further their education. This generally works well as it can be difficult to juggle courses and home life during the summer months. There’s one major flaw with this practice however… Continue Reading…
This is my first post about my Monday gardening group at Callan Community Garden as we haven’t had many pictures to show you!
I started working with this Kilkenny Leader funded project back in the autumn of 2012 with a four-week, indoor, introductory course that approximately 15 people attended. Of those around eleven signed up to participate in the community garden that I’m working with for the coming year.
It appeared that no organic matter had been added to the soil since the beds were built some time ago, so thanks to a donations, we remedied that by adding several wheelbarrow loads to all but the area allocated for the carrots and parsnips.
The bed really needed the addition of well-rotted organic matter to help to break down the heavy clay soil
We’ve spent a lot of time preparing the soil for this garden as it was so neglected. Inside the polytunnel our small allocated area was like dust…
The area for the community gardeners, the rest of the tunnel is shared with St Bridget’s School & the BTEI Group
We use a board to avoid standing on the prepared soil
Today we were able to start sowing seeds inside the polytunnel. As we’ve been waiting for funding for equipment, it’s been a great excuse to show everybody how they can reuse and recycle household “rubbish”. The gardeners have been very inventive but it’s meant that the precious funds can be spent on seeds rather than pots!
Using recycled household rubbish in the Community Garden
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