I just adore Halloween. I’ve enjoyed America television and associated Americana since I was little and Halloween was always a big part of that being such a commercial event in the states. It has come over to the UK but if you’ve ever walked through an American suburb recently or even more than gone out in the evening in a city you will see the amazing array of costumes and decorated houses. My favourite experience was the town of Celebration in Orlando where they have light projections covering their entire houses showing Halloween scenes such as ghosts or bats circling the house.
Pumpkin flavouring is another item you cannot get away from in the states. Everything is flavoured from coffee; branded cookies through to candles and fabric softener. I think it helps that ‘Thanks Giving’ is at a similar time of year and the tradition for Pumpkin Pie (which I find glorious) must only have help drive the desire for pumpkin flavoured things. Pumpkin flavoured items are not very present in the UK and you really have to struggle to find anything but you do find Pumpkins for carving. The first thing I will say therefore is be careful when you buy a pumpkin. A lot of them in the UK are grown just for carving and not eating. Check the label as it normally states this in the small print. Try to find a farm to pick your pumpkin from a patch or pick up an organic one if you can. I’ve grown pumpkins in the past and will put up a guide to growing them in the next spring time as it’s so much fun.
So you’ve picked; grown or bought your pumpkin, how do you carve it? My advice would be to search the internet for designs that you like mean something to you. I’ve seen some great Mickey Mouse designs and it’s more interesting than just a wobbly mouth and triangle eyes. This year I’ve been playing a game on my mobile called ‘Pokemon Go’ which has some spookily themed character so ‘Gengar’ seemed like a great idea.
I started my looking at a picture of what I wanted to carve and drew it in ‘Sharpie’ marker on the flatest side of my pumpkin. I coloured with lines the bits of pumpkin to cut away where the line would come through. Then using a really sharp knife I cut the top off my pumpkin. Using a metal spoon scrape the insides of the pumpkin so all the loose fibres and seeds fall in a pile at the bottom. Keep doing this and emptying the contents until you have smooth sides of pumpkin flesh inside. Then using a small sharp knife cut the coloured pieces away leaving you design. Scrape the back of the design so you don’t get any fibrous bits hanging down in front of the light. If your pumpkin is organic you’ll have quite a lot of fleshy insides that you can scrape away and put into a bowl separately. If there isn’t much just leave it to allow the pumpkin to keep its integrity. A real word of warning though don’t leave a pumpkin with fleshy insides intact as it will rot within a couple of days and literally dissolve making a major mess.
For the light itself I use the cheap battery powered ones as they are much safer if you put your pumpkin in a window or anywhere near children. They also help preserve your pumpkin for much longer as the candle heat can melt the insides and help it rot faster. Trust me I learnt this the hard way when even after a week the pumpkin had dissolved to mush all over my window sill and down the wall. Also, if you use a candle and your cut outs aren’t very big put a couple of holes in the roof/top of your pumpkin to allow air in or your candle will melt the roof thus again creating a big pile of mush or the candle goes out shortly after you put it in.
Finally using some wet kitchen paper and some form of cleaning product like washing up liquid give the front of the pumpkin where the design is a bit of a wipe down to remove any pieces of residual marker pen.
And voila!! Happy Halloween!!
But what about that pumpkin flesh… I have two things I like to do. The first is to mix it with a can of prepared pumpkin that can buy in the supermarket. This is generally a bit sweeter as it’s been canned immediately after picking. Cook the flesh for about 20 mins in a pan and then add a can of condensed milk; 2 beaten eggs, a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon and some salt. Mix. Grab some pre-made short crust pastry (frozen stuff) and line a cake tin or flan/pie dish. Fill with the mixture and bake for 20 minutes at about 180 degrees. Serve with vanilla ice-cream.
The second thing I like to do is add the pumpkin flesh to homemade soups. Add to cauliflower or any vegetables you like in a pan with some vegetable stock and boil for about 20 minutes. Add a dash of cream; salt and pepper and blend with a blender. Perfect vegetable soup!