Barty Phillips has lots of great ideas for using garden produce to mark Hallowe’en, including jack-o-lantern pumpkins and bobbing for apples
Last year, I forgot to stock up with chocolate bars in time for Hallowe’en so when the tricksters and treatsters turned up in their green faces and tattered cloaks, I substituted apples. These were accepted with curiosity but not disdain (unlike the almonds, which I found next morning cast on to the pavement). Storable fruits and vegetables used to be an important part of the autumn harvest and featured large in Hallowe’en festivities, but now supermarkets and sweets have taken over. Small wonder that a child, when asked recently when the harvest season was, answered doubtfully “Spring?”
Happily, pumpkins still only appear in autumn, which gives them their rather special quality. Traditional orange pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) still make the best Hallowe’en lanterns. They look spectacular in quantity – a whole row sitting on a windowsill or a group by the front door. Digging out the flesh can become tiresome, so organize a pumpkin-scooping party with several children to egg each other on.
For indoor decoration make use of the other curious members of the marrow and squash family, often in multi-coloured combinations that can include red, yellow, orange, green and even blue. Don’t forget to include the miniature pumpkins such as ‘Baby Bear’ and ‘Jack Be Little’, the bottle gourds and the custard marrow. My favourite is the Malabar gourd or fig-leafed pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia), a handsome, smooth green armful with pale markings making it look as if permanently basking in mottled shade. It makes a good sculpture indoors, sometimes lasting intact for several years, and tastes delicious stuffed.
If you haven’t got around to growing your own, pumpkins and squashes are widely available from supermarkets or you can buy from the 60 or so varieties grown in fields next to his garden by pumpkin enthusiast C.R. Upton Esq, 4 Top Road, Slindon, NR. Arundel, West Sussex (prices vary from £2 to £10). In the absence of a good British pumpkin website, I suggest the US site www.pumpkinnook.com, which has a wealth of pumpkin information and suggestions.
Traditional children’s Hallowe’en parties should include bobbing for apples, which are best small and softish. It’s hopeless trying to get one’s teeth into a hard shiny apple like a Granny Smith. Try instead Discovery, Gala, small Cox’s Orange Pippins or the old Beauty of Bath, not often found nowadays and not a good keeper, but with a distinctive apply taste. In Britain over 6,000 varieties have been bred over the years and Apple Day is an annual celebration of this wonderful diversity. Local apple celebrations may include viewing, tasting, competing, getting your own apples identified and possibly buying an apple tree. For details of Apple Day events go to the web pages of Common Ground who started it all in 1990: www.commonground.org.uk.
For Londoners there is also Apple Magic, a display of traditional apple varieties on until 11th December, in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens (020 8940 1171); devised with Orchardlink, an organization set up to conserve small Devon orchards.