Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!

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From the internet – I have a lack of rosemary photos…

The plant is also sometimes called anthos from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”. Rosemary has a fibrous root system. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue. Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).

The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”. Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 – 1350, referring to rosemary as “Coronary”. Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” Rosemary root was “seethed in wine vinegar” and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm. The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 – 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 – 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will “doth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.”

Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly”. Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.

Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.

Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…). The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:

“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.”

Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.

In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.

Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.

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From the internet

Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover  cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture. Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.

Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.

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Mum’s Herby Bread

Serves 10

-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil

For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing

  1. Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
  3. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

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Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine recipe

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We’ve had some sad looking butternut squashes staring at us in the kitchen for a while and I finally took pity and tried out making my own quick tagine-styled dish. It is really good and not at all hard so give it a go if you have a squash glowering at you from the fridge!

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Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine 

Serves 6

-1 small butternut squash/ 1/2 a large one -1 onion, finely sliced -Olive oil, for frying in -1 garlic clove, finely diced -16 cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, sliced -450g cooked chickpeas -Rice, to serve -Greens, to serve

  1. Cut up the butternut squash and remove the peel. Cut into fine chunks and fry in the olive oil with the onion, continually stirring so that the squash cooks, but does not burn. Fry for about 5-10 minutes, or until the squash is browning slightly and is cooked through.
  2. Add the diced garlic followed by the tomatoes. On a high heat, stir the mixture like you did when frying the squash. You want the tomatoes to start to break down and release their juices, but not to burn. This could take between another 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the chickpeas and mix in well.
  4. Serve with rice and greens. Also lovely with sweet potato.

 

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Carrots

Not to try and scare fellow gardeners but hey, its not far off till March – the biggest sowing month of the year!

This is when my sowing indoors becomes nuts, but because of the frosts there is little you can sow directly outdoors at this time of year still.

What you can sow are the hardy things like Broad Beans, winter Salad – Lettuce, Meteor Peas … but they all need to be sown under horticultural fleece and, ideally, a cold frame.

But do you know what is a good idea to sow directly outdoors first thing in the season, that has to remain under the cover of fleece the whole year round thanks to pesky flies? Carrots.

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Carrots don’t like to be transplanted, they need a lot of time to develop, and need covering from carrot flies anyway so why not make a little bed and sow some seeds?

To make you want to grow your own carrots, here is a recipe to get you enthusiastic. Do you know what carrots go great in? Bolognese.

*To make it vegetarian, omit the meat. You can put pre-soaked or canned kidney beans in instead, but you don’t need to add more protein if you are serving it with grated cheese.*

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Veggie version – with kidney beans instead of mince

Spaghetti Bolognese 

Serves 4-6

-Olive oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -4-6 giant carrots, or the equivalent as small ones -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -x2 450g cans of tinned tomatoes -500g beef mince (optional) -Dash of soy sauce -Dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -Pinch of salt -Pinch of pepper -Spaghetti, to serve (about 500g) -Peas, runner beans or broccoli, to serve -400g grated cheddar cheese, to serve

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion and the grated carrot together, stirring the contents. You want the carrot to lose some of its orange colour, to cook, but you don’t want it all to burn.
  2. Once the carrot is cooked, add the tinned tomatoes and the diced garlic. Mix in well.
  3. In a separate frying pan, fry the mince meat if using. Once cooked, add to the sauce, or if using kidney beans, drain if from a can and add to the sauce straight away instead. Mix well.
  4. Add the flavourings and stir. Leave it to come to the boil and then turn the flame down and allow it to simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling hot water until cooked through. Bring another pan to the boil and cook the greens.
  6. Serve with a helping of spaghetti and greens, the bolognese on top, and a good helping of grated cheddar.
  7. Left overs can be used for chilli con carne (just add diced chilli) or for lasagne.

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Parsley

Growing your own herbs can be easy and take up little space. You can grow most of them all year round, indoors and outdoors, and can freeze any sudden gluts.

Parsley is my favourite herb (I’m not very herby, let me just quickly say).

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Parsley is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiacea native central Mediterranean. The word “parsley” is a merger of the Old English petersilie (which is identical to the contemporary German word for parsleyPetersilie) and the Old French peresil, both derived from Medieval Latin petrosilium.

Garden parsley is a bright green, biennial plant in temperate climates, or an annual herb in subtropical and tropical areas. The two main groups of parsley used as herbs are curly leaf (i.e.) (P. crispum crispum group; syn. P. crispum var. crispum) and Italian, or flat leaf (P. crispum neapolitanum group; syn. P. crispum var. neapolitanum); of these, the neapolitanum group more closely resembles the natural wild species. Flat-leaved parsley is preferred by some gardeners as it is easier to cultivate, being more tolerant of both rain and sunshine, and is said to have a stronger flavour, while curly leaf parsley is preferred by others because of its more decorative appearance. A third type, sometimes grown in southern Italy, has thick leaf stems resembling celery.

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Curly Leaf Parsley (picture from internet)

The Ancient Greeks associated parsley with death as it was supposed to have sprung from the blood of Archemorus, whose name meant ‘Forerunner of Death.’ Homer tells the tale of chariot horses being fed parsley by warriors prior to battle in hopes of making the animals more light of foot. Victors at funeral games, athletic contests held in honor of a recently deceased person, were crowned with parsley. The saying ‘to be in need of parsley’ was saying that someone was terribly ill and not expected to survive. Greek gardens often had borders of parsley and rue which led to the saying “Oh! we are only at the Parsley and Rue” to signify when an undertaking was in contemplation and not fully acted upon.

The Romans did not generally eat parsley either but they did wear garlands of parsley on their heads during feasts to ward off intoxication. Parsley was kept away from nursing mothers because it was thought to cause epilepsy in their babies.

Old culture said that the slow and unreliable germination of parsley is because the seed goes nine times to the Devil and back before coming up. The ungerminated seeds are the ones that the Devil keeps for himself. The belief went even further, claiming that only if the woman was master of the household would parsley start to grow. In Suffolk, it was thought sowing Parsley seed on Good Friday would ensure the herb coming up “double”.

Like Ancient Greece, parsley was also associated with death in England. A common saying was ‘Welsh parsley is a good physic’ as ‘Welsh parsley’ signified the gallows rope. In Surrey and in other southern English counties it was said, “Where parsley’s grown in the garden, there’ll be a death before the year’s out.” It was also believed that if someone cut parsley, they would be later crossed in love. In Devonshire, it was believed that anyone who transplanted parsley would offend the ‘guardian genius’ who presides over parsley beds. The evil transplanter or a member of his family was thought to be punished within a year and in Hampshire peasants feared giving away parsley as it would bring ill-luck upon them.

Parsley history includes its use as an antidote against poisons. Sources suggest that parsley’s ability to counteract the strong smell of garlic was a possible source for this belief and usage. Parsley was used historically in veterinary medicine. Farmers once thought that parsley prevented a number of diseases in sheep and would plant fields of it to keep their flock healthy. The strong aroma would unfortunately attract an overabundance of rabbits which would come from long distances to eat the parsley leaving many farmers to fence in their fields.

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Flat Leaf Parsley (picture from internet)

If you intend to grow your parsley indoors, you can sow the seeds at any time of the year. Sow thinly, 0.5cm deep, in small pots of compost. Water well and place in a light, warm position and keep the compost moist. Plants can be grown on a light windowsill. Or you can sow outdoors, March-July. To grow outside, sow thinly, 1.5cm deep, directly where they are to grow. Seedlings should start to appear in 14-21 days. When they are large enough to handle, thin outdoor plants to 20cm apart. Keep moist and weed free. Or we do sow ours indoors and then transplant outdoors when the frosts have cleared. Parsley is great for sowing between other crops. The leaves of indoor plants can be picked at any time and those from outdoor plants, from May. Take a few from each plant so they regrow quickly.

Parsley’s volatile oils, particularly myristicin, have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and particularly, tumor formation in the lungs. The flavonoids in parsley, especially luteolin, have been shown to function as antioxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (called oxygen radicals) and help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. In addition, extracts from parsley have been used in animal studies to help increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A (notably through its concentration of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid, beta-carotene). Parsley is a good source of folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins. While it plays numerous roles in the body, one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is its necessary participation in the process through which the body converts homocysteine into benign molecules.

Excessive consumption of parsley should be avoided by pregnant women. Normal food quantities are safe for them to consume, but consuming excessively large amounts may have uterotonic effects.

Another type of parsley is grown as a root parsley the Hamburg root parsley (more coming soon…). This type of parsley produces much thicker roots than types cultivated for their leaves. Root parsley is common in central and eastern Europe cuisine where it is used in coups and stews or simply eaten raw, as a snack (similar to carrots). We’ve found the easiest way of using it is roasting chunks like parsnips and eating a medley of homegrown roasted veg: carrots, parsnips, Hamburg root parsley and celeriac.

Parsley is widely used in European, Middle Eastern and American cooking. Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish (which is my favourite way of using it): in central Europe, eastern Europe, and southern Europe, as well as in western Asia, many dishes are served with fresh green chopped parsley sprinkled on top. Root parsley is very common in central, eastern, and southern European cuisines, where it is used as a snack or a vegetable in many soups and stews.

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Here are two recipes that include parsley: one I’ve already posted a while ago, Mum’s Fish Pie, the other is for any fellow veggies, Baba Ganoush which is the most delicious dip ever when parsley is sprinkled on top…

Mum’s Fish Pie

Original link to blog post here: Recipe: Mum’s Fish Pies

(Serves 6)

For the topping: – 1kg potato – 50g butter – A dash of milk or cream – 70g grated cheddar cheese

For the filling: – 50g butter – 1/2 onion, finely sliced – 1 giant clove of garlic, finely diced – 1 cod fillet – 3 large tomatoes – 150ml double cream – Handful of parsley leaves

Additions: – Handful or parsley – Handful of chives

  1. Preheat the grill to high or the oven to 200C.
  2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks to boil in the pan. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave until the potatoes are cooked through. To test they are done, stick a fork in the middle of a cube – if it slips off the fork without any persuasion easily, then it is cooked. Drain the water into another pan for boiling the tomatoes later. Put the butter and a dash of milk or cream into the pan and mash. Set aside until ready.
  3. For the filling: melt the butter in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until it is golden brown. Add the garlic a fry briefly. Turn the heat down to low and add the cod fillet, letting it warm in  the butter mixture.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the old potato water to a rolling boil. Briefly dunk the tomatoes, whole, into the water for a couple of minutes so that the skins sag and are ready to peel off. Remove and place in a bowl and allow to cool before breaking them up into pieces.
  5. Pour the double cream into the fish mixture, stirring it in so that it is combined. Add the parsley leaves, shredded into pieces. Remove from the heat straight away and continue to stir for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato pieces.
  6. To assemble: scrape the fish mixture into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish. Put a thick layer of mashed potato on top and cover it with grated cheddar cheese. Cook under the grill for about 10 minutes or in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and cooked.
  7. Serve with lots of vegetables, like peas, carrots, sweetcorn, runner beans, courgettes, broccoli, cauliflower etc. Scatter the parsley, torn over the top along with cut up chives.

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Baba Ganoush 

(Serves 4)

-1 aubergine -3 small garlic cloves – ½tsp salt – Juice of 1 lemon – 1tbsp tahini paste – 1 ½tbsp olive oil -1tbsp chopped parsley – Black pepper – Flat breads, like maneesh or pitta breads, to serve – Mixed salad, to serve

  1. Heat the grill to high. Prick the aubergine with a fork and grill, turning occasionally, until the skin is charred and blackened all over and the flesh feels soft when pressed. Leave to one side until cool enough to handle.
  2. Crush the garlic. Tip into a food processor, add the lemon juice, tahini and olive oil and combine. Season with black pepper.
  3. Cut the aubergine in half, scoop out the soft flesh and add to the mixture. Combine well so it is a smooth paste.
  4. Spoon into a serving dish and top with a grinding of black pepper and parsley. Serve with bread and salad or it goes great with rice and as a topping to potato.

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More recipes with parsley- available below!

Stuffed Aubergines (Vegetarian), parsley is great on curries like this Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry, used in stocks for soups Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock and in Homity pie along with Leeks.

Lentils, potatoes, runner beans and cranberry sauce

I always struggle with finding a vegetarian protein at Christmas and then I struggle to find one to pair with cranberry sauce afterwards. Cheese is always an option, it famously goes well with cranberry and redcurrant, but I’m not a huge fan of it at the moment. I love cranberry sauce with potatoes, and Brussels sprouts (Recipe: Potato, Brussel Sprout and Cranberry Bake), but that isn’t enough protein to tick the boxes for a well-balanced meal.

I tried red split lentils last night. I like red split lentils because I don’t have to soak them for hours before hand when I need an instant meal, they are very nutritious and filling and never taste how you think they are going to (they have a lemony taste to me). I use them a lot in daal (Courgettes and carrot Daal) but they are actually very nice just boiled, plain. And even more nice with a little bit of sweet cranberry sauce added to them.

Do you know what else goes really well with cranberry sauce? Runner beans. I dug out a packet we froze from this years harvest.

I’ve got another 3 1/2 large jars of cranberry sauce from December left to eat up… 🙂

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Lentils, potatoes, runner beans and cranberry sauce

(Serves 4) 

-4 medium sized potatoes -250g red split lentils -8 serving spoons worth of runner beans -4 generous tsp of cranberry sauce, to serve

  1. Pierce holes in the potatoes and place in the microwave. Heat for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and squishy and have cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add the red split lentils and simmer for about 15 minutes or until they have absorbed the water and are cooked. If there is any spare water, drain, and put to one side.
  3. Bring another pan of water to the boil and add sliced beans into it. Boil for about 6 minutes or until the beans are cooked. Drain.
  4. Place a potato on each plate and slice open. Spoon lentils next to it and 2 serving spoons of runner beans. Add a large dollop of cranberry sauce to serve.

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Recipe: Potato, Brussel Sprout and Cranberry Bake

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(Serves 1)

-1 medium sized potato -2 serving spoons of Brussel sprouts -1-2 generous tsp of cranberry sauce

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. You have the option to either boil or microwave your potato. If you are boiling, cut the potato up into large chunks and place in a pan of boiling water. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft a cooked through. If you are microwaving it, pierce holes in the skin and microwave for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until the potato feels soft when squeezed.
  3. Bring a pan of water to the boil and place in it the Brussel sprouts that have had their outer leaves removed and crosses stamped at the bottom of the stems. Boil for about 8 minutes or until soft.
  4. In an oven proof container, layer the potato, followed by the Brussels. Smear the cranberry sauce over the top, with the option to mix it in.
  5. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. The cranberry sauce will be hot an bubbling.
  6. Serve with a side of fried mushrooms or cheese for protein.

Cranberries <— original link to cranberry sauce recipe

Pumpkin

A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pep, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange colouration. The thick shell contains seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large ones are derived from Cucurbita maxima. In NZ and Australia, the term pumpkin generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.

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Native to North America pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the US although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as for decoration at Halloween. Pumpkins, like other squash, are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC was found in Mexico. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often-used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded and more flared where joined to the fruit. Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo. The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon which is Greek for “large melon”, something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin. Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8kg (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars, C. maxima, regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb). The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene found in carrots, provitamin B compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that are usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8cm (3 in) deep are at least 15.5C (60F) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed. The thing I most fear for our pumpkins is powdery mildew – Powdery Mildew

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A courgette with powdery mildew – the white spots that grow on the leaves before the plant shrivels and dies.

Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower. Bees play a significant role in the fertilisation of the flowers. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide sensitivity. Today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m2 per hive, or 5 hives per 2 hectares) is recommended by the US Dept. of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate – inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.

To grow pumpkins, plant one seed in a tall yoghurt container filled with good compost, puncture a hole in the bottom of the pot to allow water to drain through, in April. Plant 1.5cm, 1/2 inch, deep (deep as your thumb) and firm the soil over the top. Keep well watered and put on a warm, sunny windowsill in your house. Take it off the windowsill at night to keep it warm. Transplant outdoors in May or when the frosts are over, spacing 1.2m (4’) apart. Keep moist and well fed – I feed mine lots of manure throughout the season because of my sandy soil that leaks away the nutrients – pumpkins are hungry plants. To prevent the fruit from rotting, gently lift from the ground and place a brick or large stone underneath them. Careful not to damage the stem. Harvest once they are turning orange all over, September – November and before the first frosts. The most obvious clue is to look at the stem as if it has died off and turned hard you know that the fruits are ready. Other ways of telling that the moment of truth has arrived is to slap the fruit (it should sound hollow) and to push your thumbnail into the skin, which should dent but not puncture. Cut the stalks a good 4 inches from where it joins the fruit. Wash the fruit with soapy water containing one part of chlorine bleach to ten parts of water to remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit. Make sure the fruits are well dried. Then you need to cure it. Curing involves the hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least three months, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.  Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find having first brushed off any dirt. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan! This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then once carefully flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom. Pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. Keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection.

The best pumpkin variety I’ve tried so far are ‘Racer’.

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The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is first recorded in 1866. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o’-lantern as part of the festivities to encourage families to join together to make their own jack-o’-lanterns. Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults and air cannons are some of the common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Pumpkin seeds, leaves, and juices all pack a nutritional punch. Pumpkin has a range of health benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene and are a good source of fibre -one cup of cooked pumpkin is 2.7kg of fibre. Pumpkins have been found to reduce blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer, combats diabetes and supports your immune system.

Here are some yummy pumpkin recipes and ideas to get you started:

You can simply roast them at 180C in the oven covered in olive oil for 45 minutes. You can use them in soups, stews. Grate them up and add them to any casserole or bolognese, stir fry etc. Make pumpkin pie, try inventing a new dip…

Pumpkin Coconut Curry

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What to do with left over pumpkin? – make pumpkin seeds taste like popcorn

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Happy Halloween! Recipe Flashbacks – pumpkin cake anyone?!