October is here and that means Halloween is nearly upon us! What better way to celebrate the spookiest season of the year than with a traditional Jack ‘O Lantern? Carving a pumpkin that you grew in your own back garden is one of the most rewarding ways to celebrate Halloween and a great way to get the whole family involved too. Not to mention the tasty treats you can make from the pumpkin flesh!
Here are our tips on making the most of your homegrown pumpkins – from growing seedlings to cooking soup!
Growing your pumpkins
Firstly, pumpkins are pretty easy to grow, though they do need space so the vines can sprawl along the ground. Some vines can get to as long as 6m (19ft), though around 3m (9ft) should be enough space for the average variety. According to Thompson & Morgan, in cooler climates pumpkin seeds can be sown in April and May but should be kept inside until all risk of frost has passed. Plant two seeds in small 7cm pots and thin out the weaker plants later on.
When daily temperatures average around 18C and above, and your seedlings are big enough, plant them outside at 3m (9ft) intervals in full sun. As the vines send out their tendrils, you’ll begin to see more and more leaves appear, then flowers will bloom and that’s where you’ll find your pumpkins start to bud. Pumpkins like to be warm and relish the sun, so remove any leaves that are throwing shade. Pumpkins can also be prone to rot if left to sit on damp earth, so raise them off the ground and rest them on seed trays, boards or thick cardboard.
If you can create a mound of earth to grow your pumpkins on, this will help with drainage and warming the soil. Make sure you water your plants regularly as pumpkins are very thirsty, and leave it as close to Halloween as possible to harvest them. This will ensure that the skins are nice and firm and easier to carve. If Halloween comes around before your pumpkins are properly ripened, it’s worth harvesting them a couple of weeks early and bringing them inside to ripen properly. Then it’s time to carve!
Carving your Jack ‘O Lantern
Once you’ve selected your perfect pumpkin, it’s best to start by drawing out your design on the outside of it. If you’re unsure where to start, try sketching out your Jack O’ Lantern’s face on paper first and transfer it to your pumpkin when you’re happy with the design.
The first place to start is at the top by cutting out the lid. Most of the inside of a pumpkin is hollow so it’s easy to start cutting. Use a sharp knife and make the first cut to zig zag around the stalk at the top. Keep the knife at an angle in towards the centre of the pumpkin so that the lip won’t fall inside when you’ve finished cutting. When you have completed the lid, pull the stalk and the lid should come straight out. Make sure you make the hole at the top big enough to get your hands inside to carve the pumpkin out.
Inside you will see the fibrous pulp and the seeds, these can be pulled out by hand initially and then you can use spoons, or an ice cream scoop to remove the stubborn bits! Remember to set the seeds aside, you’ll need them for planting so you can grow next year’s crop and start the cycle again. You can also roast some of the seeds with olive oil to make a tasty addition to salads and snacks.
If you’re looking to make a pie or soup from your pumpkin, then continue to scrape away at the inside until you have reduced the sides down by about half or around 2cm (<1″) thick. See below for the full recipes, but you will need around 680g (24oz) of pureed pumpkin for a pie and around 450g (1lb) for soup, to create 4-6 servings.
Once the pumpkin is hollowed out and you are happy with your design, you can either free-draw it using a felt tip pen – this is a great way to get younger family members involved – or you can trace out the design from your paper using a sharp tool like a knitting needle. Then using your knife, start cutting out your Jack ‘O Lantern.
Go slowly and use simple straight cuts at first, keeping the knife perpendicular to the pumpkin. Once you have carved the basic eyes, mouth and other features, then you can start to shape the holes that are left and perfect your face.
Add two or three tealights inside your pumpkin, turn out the lights and watch it glow!
Here are a few QVC-made Jacks for inspiration!
Making a delicious autumnal feast
Although traditionally served at Thanksgiving dinner, its creamy filling and tasty pastry base make it a delicious end to any meal.
For the shortcrust pastry base:
- (100g) 4oz butter
- (200g) 8oz self raising flour
- 1 – 2 tbsp cold water to bind
For the filling:
- 680g (24oz) pumpkin puree
- 100g (4oz) brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 300ml (10fl oz) single cream
- 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- Pinch of salt
For the garnish:
- 175ml (6fl oz) sour cream
- 125ml (4fl oz) whipped cream
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Crumbled walnuts to garnish
Making the shortcrust pastry base:
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 / 190C
- Sift the flour into a mixing bowl then cut the butter into small pieces before adding to the bowl
- Cover the butter with the flour and then rub the mixture between your thumb and fingers to create bread crumbs
- Add the water and mix in with a butter knife, then gather all the dough together with your hands making sure you pick up any residue in the bowl
- Flour your worktop or board and knead the pastry into a ball
- Then roll out your dough to about 4cm – 5cm larger than your pie tin turning the dough a quarter turn after each roll
- Line your pie dish with the pastry and fill with baking beans
- Cook your pastry base for 15 minutes, remove the beads and cook for a further 5 minutes
Making the filling:
- Combine the sugar, salt and spices in a small mixing bowl
- Blend the pumpkin puree and eggs well, in a mixer
- Gradually add the sugar and spice mixture and the cream and blend everything together until smooth
- Pour the mixture into your pie base
- Place the tin into the oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until small knife comes out clean
- Serve either hot or cold
For the garnish:
- Whip the sour cream, whipped cream and sugar together until light and fluffy
- Add a dollop to each pie serving and sprinkle with crushed walnuts
For a warming, colourful lunch option or tasty starter, serve this hearty pumpkin soup in small hollowed out pumpkins and top with crunchy croutons or chunks of rustic bread!
- 30g (1oz) of butter / 2 tbsp olive oil
- 450g (16oz ) pumpkin puree
- 2 pints chicken stock – use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version
- 25ml (8fl oz) double cream
- 2 small onions
- 1 stalk celery
- 1/2 tsp tabasco sauce or 1/2 tsp – chilli flakes
- 1 tsp paprika
- Pinch of salt
- In a large saucepan melt the butter / warm the oil over a moderate heat
- Add the onion and the pumpkin and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 – 6 minutes or until the onion are soft and transparent
- Gradually stir in the chicken stock, salt, celery, and spices
- Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly
- Then cover the pan and simmer for 30 – 35 minutes or until the pumpkin and celery is very tender
- Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth
- Stir in the cream and return to the saucepan
- Cook the soup on a moderately high heat until piping hot but not boiling and serve immediately
For more gardening inspiration, check out our Garden & Leisure department.