Pumpkins & Squash - In Season

Hunters Hotel PumpkinsPumpkins are not just for Halloween, as - like other so-called winter squashes - they store well after ripening and can be kept throughout the winter, making a versatile addition to the usual range of vegetables.

The flesh is delicately flavoured and can be bland, so generously spiced dishes tend to be most popular, but the flavours vary so it does pay to experiment - and the roasted seeds of some varieties are a bonus.

Although pumpkins, in particular, are easy enough to find in the shops coming up to Hallowe’en, squashes and pumpkins are fun to grow, especially with children, and it’s worth thinking about growing your own next year.

The number of varieties available is surprising, with big pumpkins like Hundredweight or Dill’s Atlantic Giant the ones to choose for competitive Hallowe’en bravado, while more compact ones such as Becky are handier for small gardens and usually have better eating qualities too.

The winter squashes include many varieties - butternut squash, turban squash, acorn squash, banana squash and hubbard squash are just a few of them. All are good to eat and some, such as butternut, are especially good, while others like the turban varieties, tend more towards the decorative end of the spectrum.

If growing your own pumpkins and squashes, let them ripen at least until they begin to colour (sometime in October); once picked and stored in a dry, frost-free place, the colour continues to develop and they can be used for months.

All seed companies will have some pumpkins and squash in their ranges but, as well as the well known garden centre brands, also consider specialist Irish companies such as Irish Seed Savers and Brown Envelope Seeds. There are many advantages over the big international companies, including the fact that their seeds are more likely to suit Irish growing conditions.

Pumpkin And Raisin Tea LoafRECIPE: Pumpkin And Raisin Tea Loaf

This delicious tea loaf is from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s great book, River Cottage Veg Everyday! (Bloomsbury, hardback £25) It is rich and sweet, but also quite light because it doesn't contain any butter or oil.


A little butter or sunflower oil, for greasing
200g light muscovado sugar
4 large eggs, separated
200g finely grated raw pumpkin or squash flesh
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
l00g raisins
l00g ground almonds
200g self-raising flour
A pinch of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A generous grating of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3. Lightly grease a loaf tin, about 20 x 10cm, and line with baking parchment.

Using an electric whisk, beat the sugar and egg yolks together for 2-3 minutes until pale and creamy. Lightly stir in the grated pumpkin or squash, lemon zest and juice, raisins and ground almonds.

Sift the flour, salt and spices together over the mixture and then fold them in, using a large metal spoon.

In a large, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Stir a heaped tablespoonful of the egg white into the cake mixture to loosen it a little, then fold in the rest as lightly as you can.

Tip the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and gently level the surface. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

VARIATIONS: For courgette, carrot or beetroot tea loaf, replace the pumpkin with 200g finely grated raw courgette, carrot or even beetroot (which produces a striking purple-marbled effect).

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