Taste of the sea­son

Cel­e­brate pump­kins and squash in all their glo­ri­ous forms. Sally Nex shares va­ri­eties to try and tips for pick­ing and cook­ing

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Cel­e­brate squash and pump­kins in all their in­fi­nite va­ri­ety

We all know what pump­kins look like, right? Huge, round and or­ange, car­ry­ing princesses to balls or grin­ning ghoul­ishly from doorsteps. Well… not ex­actly. Cin­derella’s coach might just as eas­ily have been striped in dark green, and your Hal­loween lantern could be a ghostly white. You see, pump­kins are ac­tu­ally win­ter squashes, and as well as stan­dard or­ange you’ll find fruits in steely blue and chartreuse green, blotched, or el­e­gantly ribbed. But it’s not all about looks: the best squashes have su­perb flavour, an aro­matic savouri­ness that’s the taste of au­tumn. They are straight­for­ward to grow and their boun­ti­ful har­vest is eas­ily stored for later, keep­ing the kitchen well­stocked right through win­ter. Pick your va­ri­eties clev­erly and you can grow squashes wher­ever you live. Early-fruit­ing types suit northerly gar­dens; if space is at a pre­mium, train a scram­bling va­ri­ety up an arch­way. Or grow a baby-fruited squash in a large pot. We’ve picked some of our favourites to get you started.

How to har­vest

Once the fruits start to colour, raise them up onto bricks to let the air get un­der­neath, as this will help to ripen them more evenly. Har­vest – leav­ing 10cm of stem at­tached – once the fruit is fully coloured and sounds hol­low when you knock it. Bring in­doors to cure (al­low the skins to har­den) for two or three weeks in a sunny green­house or on a win­dowsill. Store up­side-down (so mois­ture doesn’t col­lect in the neck) in a dry shed or spare room. Most pump­kins/win­ter squash keep for three or four months.

How to grow

Sow in­doors, 2.5cm deep, one seed (placed on its side) per 7.5cm pot, from mid- to lateApril at 18-21°C. Or buy plug plants from late May. Har­den off young plants, grad­u­ally get­ting them used to out­door con­di­tions, when the risk of frosts has passed. Choose a sunny spot and dig in loads of well-rot­ted ma­nure or com­post be­fore plant­ing. Leave about a me­tre be­tween plants. Pro­tect from slugs un­til es­tab­lished, and keep well­wa­tered. Guide stray stems back into the bed to keep growth within bounds.

Pump­kin soup with chilli and sour cream

SERVES 4 pump­kin 1kg, peeled and chopped olive oil 4 tbsp red chill­ies 1–2, de­seeded and finely chopped gar­lic 1 clove milk 375ml chicken or veg­etable stock

pow­der, cubes or freshly made up to 750ml co­rian­der a hand­ful, roughly chopped (op­tional) sour cream to serve

Heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/ gas 6. Put the pump­kin in a roast­ing tin, driz­zle with oil and roast for 15-20 min­utes, un­til ten­der and a lit­tle browned around the edges. Tip the pump­kin, chilli and gar­lic into a saucepan with the milk and stock and bring to the boil (don’t worry if it splits). Re­duce heat and sim­mer for 8 min­utes. Cool a lit­tle then whizz in a blen­der un­til smooth and sea­son well. Stir through the co­rian­der, if us­ing, and top each bowl with a dol­lop of sour cream.

Septem­ber 2017 gar­den­er­sworld.com

‘Sweet dumpling’ Dozens of small fruits, just right for bak­ing whole. Each is pret­tily ribbed in green: in­side you’ll find or­ange flesh with a good flavour. ‘Crown Prince’ One of the best for stor­ing – it keeps for months. The bright or­ange flesh tastes a lit­tle like sweet pota­toes, and has a good, dense tex­ture. ‘Jack o’ Lantern’ This is your go-to pump­kin for Hal­lowe’en, pro­duc­ing clas­sic round fruits in bril­liant or­ange that are made for carv­ing and sweet to eat, too. But­ter­nut squash A great all-rounder pro­duc­ing dozens of small fruits with firm, tasty or­ange flesh that’s at its best driz­zled with olive oil then slow-roasted.

‘Knuck­le­head’ This should en­thral the kids with its ghoul­ish, warty skin. Be­hind the lumps and bumps, the flesh is dense and yel­low, per­fect for pump­kin pies. ‘Turk’s Tur­ban’ This gets the odd­ball prize for its cu­ri­ous, two-tiered fruits. How­ever, they keep well, can reach 30cm in di­am­e­ter and have a mild, nutty flavour. ‘Kabocha’ Prized for its in­tense flavour. There are sev­eral vari­a­tions, but all are com­pact so won’t swamp smaller gar­dens with the small, easy-to-peel fruit. ‘Uchiki Kuri’ Some­times called red onion squash, this scram­bles over a trel­lis and is early to ripen. The real draw, though, is its smoky, chest­nutty flavour.

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