It’s that time of year again, when the Western world goes crazy for a fruit we don’t actually like. Ninety-five per cent of the ten million pumpkins grown each year to be sold in Britain is destined to be turned into decoration rather than dinner. According to the environmental charity Hubbub, 18,000 tonnes of the stuff are thrown away every Hallowe’en – enough to make 360 million helpings of pumpkin pie.
However, although it’s perfectly possible to produce pudding from the flesh gouged from the slimy heart of your terrifying Trumpkin, it is hard to improve on the canned purée imported from the US – which, crucially, is made not from big, orange jack-o’-lanterns at all, but from less handsome, better-flavoured cooking varieties that bear more resemblance to the butternut squash.
Indeed, the problem with the ornamental sort is that, what with it being grown for looks rather than taste, its flesh is usually bland and watery. So even though you can make a delicious meal from your old friend, you’ll have to sing a bit harder for your supper.
To bring out the flavour, bake it in a hot oven until the flesh begins to darken and caramelise, then either purée it to make into soup (or fill pasta or pies), or toss the roasted cubes into rich, cheesy risottos, robust winter salads and cockle-warming stews.
Even those unpleasantly slippery seeds have their uses once they are washed and dried. Toss them with oil and seasoning (salt and smoked paprika work for me) and then roast, well spread out on a baking tray, for about ten minutes at 180°C. Wash down with cold beer.
Yet the smart money will go on a squash that has been bred for eating. Supermarkets are getting better but farmers’ markets and farm shops are still likely to have a superior selection. My favourite is the Crown Prince variety, which has a dense, fudge-like, sweet flesh in vivid orange that looks spectacular once carved. But be warned: it has a skin that is thicker than even the Donald. The Crown Prince’s greyish hide, however, bears little resemblance to the chicken-tikka-like Republican, and might better represent the chain-smoker Nigel Farage, or even the Iron Lady, if you fancy going retro this Hallowe’en.
Easier to deal with for the novice Cucurbita carver are the more diminutive, bulbous onion or buttercup squashes (a chubby-cheeked Michael Gove), or even the familiar butternut. Its lugubrious shape lends itself perfectly to our rather horsey-looking Health Secretary.
Whichever you go for, make sure that your knife is sharp – preferably serrated – and your grip firm. Put the pumpkin or squash on a level, non-slip surface (a damp tea towel will anchor it if it threatens to skid away from you), levelling the base if this is uneven.
Cut off the top (traditionalists may like to employ a zigzag pattern) and then use your hands to scoop out the seeds, before removing the flesh with a sharp spoon or a melon baller. Be careful to keep the walls thick enough to support their own weight and make sure that the bottom is flat enough to hold a candle.
Sketch out your design with a felt-tip pen, then carve it out, skin first, using a small paring knife or peeler. Those who take such things seriously may wish to print out a template for, say, Boris Johnson’s face and painstakingly trace it on to the fruit, employing a sharp skewer or darning needle to mark the lines, and then rubbing the holes with flour or some other white powder to make cutting easier. Add a tea light, put the lid back into place and enjoy the smell of slowly scorching squash as a bonus treat.
Alternatively, you could just hide in the dark for the next week or so until the teenage trick-or-treaters have finally given up, and eat something you like instead. Just a thought.
This article appears in the 25 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage