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
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.