The annual Pumpkin and Apple Gala at Luton Hoo Walled Garden is foodie heaven and a real celebration of autumnal British food. Piles of pumpkins and gourds are always appealing, and thousands of visitors came to take photos, guess the weight of the heaviest, and learn what to do with them.
You could buy pumpkins to take home, choose your own in the large tangly pumpkin patch, and buy soups and puddings. In the large marquee, children from the local area had decorated hundreds of pumpkins and gourds, and I saw winning entries from children from St John Lawes, Abbey Primary, Crabtree Junior, St Helen’s CE and High Beeches. The kids and teachers had obviously had a fantastic time exploring the potential of some strangely shaped gourds, and there were space aliens, monsters, owls and famous people, all made in true Blue Peter style with paint and pipe cleaners etc.
There was also some seriously good produce to buy grown by volunteers in the Walled Garden. Overgrown with brambles just 10 years ago, the Walled Garden is an ongoing restoration project, with most of the work done by the 150-strong team of volunteers. The now fertile garden has produced excellent apples and plums, rainbow chard, potatoes, chillies, tomatoes and cucumbers, and everything I tried looked and tasted excellent. The volunteers have also made preserves from the apples, plums and marrows, with proceeds being channelled back into the restoration work.
British apples are at their best at the moment and I bought Blenheim Oranges, Jupiters, Saturns and Coxes. We do grow the best apples of anywhere in the world, so do search out the more unusual varieties to try. At the gala you could also try ciders, apple juices, apple juice lollies and toffee apples, as well as apple sauce to go with the hog roast. Even at this time of year supermarkets still sell imported apples so please read the labels carefully. Home-grown apples are cheaper and taste far better than any imported at this time of the year.
Honey is another success story at the Walled Garden. There are 8 hives in the grounds, and the beekeepers have been gathering the honey for just three years. Dave Pearce and a team of trained volunteers collect two crops of honey in a year and fill 500 1lb jars. Both set and runny varieties had a very light, buttery flavour, and the jars sold out very quickly.
I don’t think Brits always know quite what to do with pumpkins and gourds, and perhaps the size of them, and the preparation put people off, but there is more you can do after carving than simply make soup.
The volunteers had put together a short recipe book with ideas for tartlets, risotto, cakes and pies. I particularly like the roast pumpkin salad idea from Sylvia Simmonds; this would be ideal alongside grilled or roast chicken, or on its own with salad leaves.
If you would like more information on Luton Hoo Walled Garden events or would like to become a volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Roast pumpkin and chickpea salad
Sylvia Simmonds, Luton Hoo Walled Garden volunteer
* 1/2 medium crown pumpkin, peeled and cut into large cubes
* olive oil, for roasting
* 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, then drained
* 2 tbsp fresh mint or coriander, shredded
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 190C. Toss the pumpkin cubes in the oil and place in a roasting dish. Roast for 40 minutes until tender and lightly caramelised. Allow to cool.
2. Place soaked chickpeas in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water. Boil for 45 minutes until tender. Drain and allow to cool.
3. Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients (whizz together in a food processor if you have one). Season to taste.
4. Combine the pumpkin, chickpeas and dressing and sprinkle over the shredded mint or coriander.