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?
The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.
In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.
In our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.
And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.
If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…
Seven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden
1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash
The days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.
Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.
2. Clear away dead plants and debris
Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.
3. Cover the Soil
Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.
If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.
4. Start Collecting Leaves
Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.
5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch
I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.
Grab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)
7. Plant something new
Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.
If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!
Slightly misleading snap in that I took it a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday in a community garden in Bundoran, County Donegal. It does go to show however, that squashes and pumpkins can grow very well outside in Ireland, even on a coastal breezy site.
Don’t they just capture everything that is quintessentially autumn. Are you growing any pumpkins this year?
Thanksgiving Cornbread from Ron Wise at Savour Kilkenny
Kilkenny is buzzing this week with the sixth year of the annual food extravaganza that is Savour Kilkenny currently taking place. There’s so much happening in the Marble City – from cooking demonstrations competitions, foraging and markets, tasting, talks and tasty tweet ups – every year the programme looks better and better.
Unfortunately I’ve yet to spend time at more than the atmospheric weekend market or for the third year running, Food Camp, but maybe next year we’ll make it to one of the evening meals instead of watching them unfold on twitter from the comfort of the sofa.
Blight Resistant Potatoes on the Parade
I’m a big fan of the Food Camp which I’ve written about before and would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet been to one to make a date for next year.
Food Camp is a place where anyone with an interest in food is encouraged to talk about it. This sharing of passion sends you home motivated, worried, excited and above all more informed about aspects of the food world than you were four hours previously (or seven if you’re there for the day). This year was no exception. It can be difficult to choose which topic you want to sit in on as three run at the same time, but I wasn’t disappointed listening to Sarah Baker share her passion for teaching children of all ages about where food comes from and how to cook it, William Despard of The Bretzel Bakery confused that parents would sooner buy fancy buns than decent bread or Natasha Czopar share her knowledge and enthusiasm for raw food.
Savour Kilkenny 2012
The last topic of the morning that sent me home uncomfortable about our future however, was from journalist Suzanne Campbell when she talked about sky rocketing global food prices that haven’t quite filtered down to us but soon will do.
Make no mistake, next year we’ll see food prices rise higher and higher, and they won’t be coming down in the foreseeable future either so we’re going to have to get used to paying a lot more for our weekly shopping. The global weather conditions – including droughts in the US to the long wet summers in Ireland and the UK will impact heavily. With our weekly or monthly housekeeping already stretched (and that’s before the November budget) surely it makes more sense than ever for people to grow their own food? Anything we can do to help keep our food bills at manageable levels has to be good and I for one will be planning to sow and grow more for my family next year.
In the meantime, this year we’ve had lots of squash growing in the polytunnel so when thinking about what to cook for the Food Camp lunch, given the event that it was, choosing to take a seasonal recipe along to the pot luck lunch seemed obvious. Slight confession here in that I didn’t use one of the several large winter squash growing here as my children had pestered my to buy some bright orange pumpkins for carving and we didn’t grow any this year. I did however, add some courgettes to the saucepan giving this a slight twist on the usual pumpkin soup. This recipe could easily be spiced up with the addition of some chilli or even a touch of five spice for a Far Eastern twist.
Winter squash harvest
Diced flesh from a medium pumpkin
Medium Courgette, diced
4 medium potatoes, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 ltrs vegetable stock
25g (1oz) butter
finely grated nutmeg
freshly ground salt & pepper
Carefully cut the top from the pumpkin and scoop out the contents. Place the empty pumpkin to one side. Discard the seeds (or clean and roast) and spread out the pumpkin flesh on a roasting tray. Bake in the oven at 175ºC for about an hour.
Once roasted, melt the butter and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the potato, roasted pumpkin, courgette, carrots and vegetable stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 mins until the vegetables are tender. Cool a little, then purée in a liquidiser. Return to a clean saucepan and stir in the milk, grated nutmeg and season to taste.
To serve, empty the hot soup into the empty pumpkin and grate a little more nutmeg onto the top.
Ron & Mona Wise aka “The Chef & I”
My Savour Kilkenny experience ended by spending a few hours on the parade with two of our three children. Here we munched on the tastiest free range chicken baps, supped on Badger & Dodo lattes and hot chocolate then enjoyed meeting up with twitter friends and listening to Ron and Mona Wise talk and demonstrate how to cook a thanksgiving dinner…. mmmmm is all I can say to that, Ron’s stuffed turkey was something else and what a finish to a lovely couple of days.
The festival runs until Monday, 29th so you still have time to catch some of the events there. See the website for more details.
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