According to the charity Hubbub, it is estimated that 18 million tonnes of pumpkin waste are thrown away each Hallowe’en, representing food that could have otherwise been eaten.
Reading this reminded me of my own changing relationship with what has become, in the UK, little more than a rather large ornamental vegetable.
As a child of the seventies, whose Hallowe’en traditions consisted chiefly of carved swedes and games of Bobbing Apples, it’s no wonder I didn’t have the first clue about how to treat a pumpkin when it came to making our own ghoulish ornaments to amuse my children.
I just remember our feeling of horror at seeing its insides for the first time. There we were, all hands on deck – with spoons – digging out its seed-filled ‘brain’, a gentle squelching sound with each spoonful. The children were torn between a curious delight at the grim experience and a disgust at the ghastly mush.
On the bright side, it’s a heck of a lot easier to carve out a spooky face on a pumpkin. The flesh is noticeably much softer than that of a swede or turnip, at which I swear always needed a hammer and chisel.
And talking of flesh, I can’t remember exactly when it was or indeed how the flash of inspiration came – probably after reading pumpkin waste statistics – but after many years of binning the innards, I suddenly found the responsibility coupled with the urge to experiment with it in my kitchen.
If you’re still at the ‘Pumpkin as Ornament’ stage and have not yet contemplated the shift towards making the most of its insides, I recommend gradual steps. After all, the pumpkin isn’t the prettiest of vegetables and when it comes to flavour it really does need some extra help and tender loving care. However, it is worth it.
After some trial and error, no longer are those pumpkin seeds simply dumped in our compost bin. Once scooped out, they’re now set aside for either roasting in the oven or gentle pan-frying on the hob. Sprinkled with a little salt or paprika, they have become a firm favourite, which makes all that messy preparation worthwhile.
Then comes the flesh. Where it was once left intact as food for the slugs and snails, which always creep in through the carved holes, it is now cut out and placed in the fridge for soup before we even start to design our latest Jack O’Lantern face.
But I must emphasise again, those pieces of pumpkin need some added oomph to make the effort a rewarding experience and when it comes to soup, you can’t beat a touch of cream and chilli powder to give it the kick it needs. I’ve also found that roasting the pumpkin first draws out its sweetness.
I haven’t graduated beyond the seeds and soup stage yet as it takes all the imagination I can muster to simply create this new family tradition of not throwing the contents away.
Maybe this year I’ll experiment further. However, if you are already much more adventurous than me, lots of ideas can be found at the Love Food Hate Waste website (www.lovefoodhatewaste.com). I can recommend the BBC Good Food site too (visit www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/pumpkin ).
So Ghoulish Greetings and a Happy Hallowe’en. If it’s too late for your pumpkin this year, at least for now there’s the compost bin. Maybe next year you can join us, the UK’s growing band of adventurers, saving Hallowe’en food waste, one pumpkin at a time.
-- Sustainable Bury’s second Green Fair takes place this Saturday 1st Nov, at the Apex, 10am-4pm. There’s lots happening, so hopefully we’ll see you there, where I’ll be delighted to answer any waste-busting questions.