One of my favorite things about pumpkins is that they lurk quietly, waiting to surprise you one Autumn day while you are pottering in the garden. Such excitement as more and more treasures are discovered under the comfrey, mielies and amaranthus!
Autumn is pumpkin time in the Midlands and every year the Dargle Local Market celebrates with a pumpkin competition. Squashes come in so many colours, shapes and sizes, and taste quite different from one another too. Eidin Griffin won the prize for the biggest one, grown from heirloom Connecticut Field Pumpkin seed. Her favourite way of serving pumpkin is in a Thai style curry which is ideal to chase winter blues away! Chop up two big onions, fry them until translucent. Add a couple of fresh chili-peppers, one medium sized pumpkin (chopped up), five large potatoes, a handful of chopped carrots, salt and black pepper and fry for 5-10 minutes. Add enough water or stock to cover the veggies, bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, add a can of coconut milk and pop in your hot-box for an hour. Garnish with fresh coriander.
Pecan, Pumpkin and Ginger muffins always go down a treat. Make some before pumpkin season is over:
1 1/2 cups flour, Pinch of salt, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup pumpkin purée, 1/3 cup melted butter, 2 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1-2 Tbsp chopped preserved ginger.
Preheat oven to 180°C. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Mix the pumpkin, melted butter, eggs, water and spices together, then combine with the dry ingredients. Do not over-mix. Fold in the preserved ginger and nuts. Spoon mixture into a prepared muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.
Pumpkins and people of all shapes and sizes participate in the Pumpkin Competition hosted by the Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) in the Community Garden.
Entrant, Lucia Buthelezi commented “I just came from church, hungry and tired but I did not allow my hungriness to stop me from coming to this competition. I went home, picked up my pumpkin and came to see this lovely garden.”
Winners in the various categories were (from left): Nokuthula Mjwara for the biggest, Lucia Buthelezi for the tastiest looking, Ester Ntuli for the most beautiful, Tutu Zuma for the funniest (held here by Sbonelo Zuma), Sihle Ngcobo for the weirdest (and least likely to be edible!), Khetelo Mtambo for the smallest. Sihle Ngcobo, who brought along his Gogo’s pumpkin, laughed “When I saw other pumpkins that were huge compared to mine I thought of going back home with my little pumpkin. I am happy to win the prize of weirdest pumpkin, next year I am taking the largest pumpkin prize.”
“It was a fun filled day. I was happy to see all the competitors excited about their prizes,” said Lindiwe Mkhize of MCG. Penz Malinga, who initiated and organised the event added “I was so pleased that Gogos, teenagers and even a four year old entered the competition. Many passers-by were wishing they had not already feasted on the pumpkins they had grown.”
As winter sets in, try this: Roast crescents of pumpkin or butternut in the oven until browned – sprinkle olive oil, salt, pepper, brown sugar and cinnamon first. Fry small peeled onions until golden, add whole peeled garlic cloves and pitted prunes and just enough water to cover. Simmer until water is absorbed, adding a little more as needed. The onions become soft and caramelised all the way through and the prunes start to disintegrate into the sauce – should take about 20 minutes. At the end add a handful of blanched almonds. Pour the sauce over the pumpkin pieces with lots of fresh parsley.
For the best tasting soup, roast pumpkins before blitzing into soup. No need to add much besides some chopped parsley, marjoram and garlic. Thin with veg stock or water.
Basic butternut soup
Chop and fry one potato, one butternut and one clove of garlic. Then add water or stock to cover and cook until soft. Either add dhania/jeera powder while frying and fresh coriander at the end, or add fresh or dried chopped marjoram, rosemary, parsley to cook and extra marjoram at the end.
Pumpkin soup with Spinach
Bring to the boil: 8 cups of pumpkin, a chopped onion, a carrot, garlic and some stock if you like. After 20 minutes or so, blend until smooth. Return to the pan, add 50ml of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw in a couple of cups of baby spinach leaves. Stir for a minute, serve and add a spoon of yoghurt to each bowl.
Roast chunks of pumpkin with oregano, salt and pepper (about 30-40 minutes).Make risotto as usual – fry in oil- celery, onion, cinnamon, chilli then add the rice. Slowly add hot stock and when risotto is al dente, stir in the pumpkin pieces. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake 1kg pumpkin pieces for about 40 minutes. Boil 750g potatoes. Sieve/crush potatoes and pumpkin together and leave to cool. Add 3 organic eggs and then stir in 100g semolina flour. Fold gently together, season, grate in some fresh nutmeg and form a stiffish dough. Divide the dough into four – roll out each piece into a 2cm thick sausage and cut at 3cm lengths. Form the gnocchi by rolling each piece over the back of a fork. Cook in batches in a pan of simmering water (about 2-3 minutes) and when they come to the surface leave for a further 2 minutes. Serve with sage leaves fried in butter or olive oil. Oooh, mouth watering.
Ravioli stuffed with pumpkin
Instead of your usual ravioli filling, use leftover roasted pumpkin mixed with ricotta cheese. Serve with Sage Butter.
Steam chunks of pumpkin (or use left overs) and mash into warm, wet polenta (or mielie meal) at a ratio of 2 parts pumpkin to 1 part of mielie meal. Drizzle with olive oil or stir in some butter. The yummiest thing to serve this with is steamed pumpkin leaves (imifino yentanga). Pick the new smallish ones and the tendrils at the end of the vine, steam and drizzle with olive oil. You could pick some courgette flowers too and fry them as an accompaniment (or just tear them up ans enjoy raw.). Harvest food at it’s best.
Pumpkin and Potato Coconut Curry
Fry onion, garlic, chilli, dhania&jeera powder, ginger, potato and butternut for a few minutes. Then add a bashed stalk of lemongrass, lime or lemon leaves, flat parsley, lots of coriander leaves and stalks, some lemon peel and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pour in a can of coconut milk and cook gently until tender. Serve with basmati rice or egg noodles and more coriander leaves