Halloween: is this another bunch of commercial nonsense imposed on us from over the pond? Or a nice theme to use to keep the kids occupied on a wet half term holiday?
For me it is the latter, and I love it. Partly because it is the only time you can give kids sweeties by the handful! But also because for me it is one of the cheapest, if not THE cheapest, themed event of the year. Last time I talked about how I made costumes out of bin liners. Now I'm looking at how a few quid spent on a vegetable can turn your house into a Halloween mecca AND feed you.
What I love the most about the simple pumpkin is how this one item can totally transform a house into a Halloween friendly home. What other single decoration can achieve the same result? Not even a Santa on his own is enough to warm up an entire night.
But last year, as I took my (then) four year old son and some friend's children trick or treating around our friendly neighbourhood, I couldn't help notice and marvel at just what a difference a smiley faced pumpkin with a candle in it made!
Lots of houses had put just one, or sometimes up to three, of these in their front porches to show they were open and ready to receive little trick or treaters and hand out candy. And on a cold, dark October night, they looked warm and inviting with their glowing faces and rich orange colour.
And all for the cost of just a cheap pumpkin and a tealight! So this year I resolved to make one myself, and because there's no point in wasting good vegetables, find out how to make something out of the scooped out innards.
How to do it?
Pumpkin carving. Simple right? All you have to do is stick a knife in it, make a mouth and some eyes. Anyone can do that right? Four ruined pumpkins later and my other half and I decided that maybe we should try looking this up online.
Naturally the US does this best. The most interesting one I found was Pumpkin Carving 101. This site even covers how to 'lay to rest' your pumpkin after the 31st! In my borough this burial will be taking place in the food scraps bin.
The pumpkin carving tutorials on here are fab, with lots of practical tips. Believe it or not, but make a six sided hole in the top really did work far better than trying to curve out a round one. I don't know why that's the case, maybe it is because you are only concentrating on cutting a bit at a time. At least with this method we didn't accidentally slice right down the side of the pumpkin!
My son and his friend had a great time making a big gooey mess pulling all the innards out of the pumpkin.
The other site we found that was immensely useful, particularly on how to select a pumpkin, was a British one. If you're not already familiar with the BBC's fabulous H2G2 website, founded by Douglas Adams of the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy fame, then start now. This is a marvellous, fully edited, gold mine of interesting and helpful information. Check out this entry on The Perfect Halloween Pumpkin.
I came across a couple of good tips. One is that you can restore a dry, wrinkled up pumpkin by soaking it in water. The other is that a coating of petroleum jelly will stop it drying out too quickly. Now this is something I'd never have thought of, and if you're making your pumpkin lanterns a day or two before hand it is probably pretty vital. It won't surprise you to find that in the US you can buy pumpkin preserving dip or pumpkin preserver spray to do the same thing.
Now I'm not about to waste perfectly good food. So what to do with all those gooey insides?
Pumpkin pie is a dish that I've often seen in US movies and TV programmes. But it isn't something I've ever had, nor have I ever heard of it being made when I was growing up. Thinking that really, it does sound a bit weird (pumpkin as pudding?) I turned to the PlayPennies mums who are from the US for advice.
Only it turned out no-one made it. I got offers of Baked Pumpkin Cheesecake, and Pumpkin Marble Cake. But no pie.
Caroline, a mum of two in Ireland, loves this Anthony Worrell Thompson recipe for pumpkin pie, reproduced on the BBC Food website here. Sarah, a Brit who now lives in British Columbia, Canada, sent me this simple recipe. So easy to do that after a hard morning carving, I got the boys to help make me pie.
I couldn't find a pie crust so just rolled out pre-made shortcrust pasty instead. And I forgot the ginger. And by pumpkin puree I figured that the mess the boys had made of the insides was enough. And yes we'd all washed hands before the carving!
But it all turned out OK in the end. All you have to do is mix all the stuff together in a bowl and stick in in the pastry. Bake for 14 mins at gas mark 6, then turn down to gas mark 4 for half an hour or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
What do you do?
Halloween, fun or nonsense? Are we just creating another commercial rod for our backs by celebrating this event? What do you do on the 31st?
And, perhaps more importantly, what fabulous and tasty ways have you found to cook/eat pumpkin?