Halloween – the festival of thrills, chills, and trick or treating — began in Ireland.
Three thousand years ago, in pagan Ireland, the Celts believed that at Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, the boundary between our world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass easily between the two. They held a festival called Samhain when they would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
Over time, Halloween has evolved to include trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.
But why do pumpkins with ghoulish faces and illuminated by candles make an appearance at this time? The practice of decorating jack-o’-lanterns also originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as early canvasses. In fact, the name, jack-o’-lantern, comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.
Legend has it that Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Of course, true to his name and nature, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack kept the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, thus preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the Devil by extracting a promise that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for another 10 years.
After Jack died, the story goes that God would not allow him into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.
And so Jack’s spirit was sent off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. This, he put into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” which got shortened to simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities. From there, it has spread to many other parts of the world, and today, on 31 October every year, Halloween and the ubiquitous pumpkin are celebrated across the globe.
What you may not know is that pumpkin (Cucurbita), so synonymous with autumn, is a wonderful vegetable of which there are five types. These are sometimes interchangeable in recipes and sometimes not: different varieties are suited for different cooking techniques. Whether you are using Butternut, Jap, Jarrahdale, Queensland Blue or any other, all have a sweet flavour which will have you glowing like their colour.
Pumpkin Helps You Feel Great
Pumpkin is an excellent source of naturally occurring plant pigments called carotenoids that are vibrant orange, yellow or red. Pumpkin is particularly high in alpha and beta carotene that are potent antioxidants and disease fighters. Beta carotene converts to vitamin A in the body and is essential for good vision. The deeper the colour, the higher the content of beta carotene. Also good for glowing skin.
That’s not all. Pumpkin is also a source of vitamin C, which contributes to the normal functioning of the body’s immune system and folate, a B vitamin vital for the formation of normal blood cells. It’s also a great source of dietary fibre and a highly versatile vegetable that can be baked, mashed and roasted – or transformed into many different recipes.
Butternut Pumpkin The sweetest and softest of pumpkins with bright orange flesh which collapses beautifully into soups and purees but is also a good all-rounder.
Jap or Kent Pumpkin This small pumpkin has mottled green and orange skin and is easy to peel to reveal its nutty-flavoured interior. Best with the skin left on when roasting as it helps keep its shape. Dryer fleshed than the butternut so drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, soy or sweet chilli sauce.
Jarrahdale Pumpkin This is a large pumpkin with thick ribbed blue-ish-grey skin and deep golden-orange flesh. Great for roasting and for soups.
Golden Nugget These are a long-keeping variety with small, orange, flattened, spherical fruits. The light orange flesh inside is sweet and finely textured. Ideal for stuffing and baking whole. These are the ones to make a Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern from as it has thin walls and is easily hollowed out.
Queensland Blue This is the biggest Daddy of them all, grown in tropical climates (hence it’s name in Australia) can grow to between 3 to 5 kg. It has a bluish-green deeply ridged skin and full flavour.
Don’t Forget The Seeds
The seeds are a good source of protein, omega-3s and fatty acids. Both delicious and eye-catching, pumpkin seeds are easily transformed into a delicious snack or garnish for salads or soups. Just heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Wash seeds thoroughly and remove any stringy bits of pumpkin flesh. Dry well, using kitchen paper or leave out on the kitchen shelf for a day or two. Toss with extra virgin olive oil on a baking tray and roast for 10 mins.
Selecting The Best
Choose a deeply hued pumpkin with no visible bruises, cuts or discolouration. Knock on it and you should hear a solid, woody sound. They are best stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.
BBQ Spiced Pumpkin
Preparation 5 minutes
Cooking 30 minutes
Pumpkin has always been popular in autumn, and it brings back great food memories for me of my Mum. I love it and it combines so well with chilli (not that she would have done that!). If you wash the skin you can leave it on as it looks pretty and is edible if well cooked.
- 1 kg firm pumpkin, skin on
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter, melted
- 3 red chillies, cut in half, deseeded, finely sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- Preheat BBQ to hot, around 200°C with hood down.
- Remove seeds from pumpkin and cut into 2–3 cm chunks. Lay in two parcels on a double thickness of foil or place in a disposable foil tray.
- Combine remaining ingredients and drizzle over pumpkin. Wrap up foil or cover tray with foil. Cook in BBQ with hood down, not on flame, for 20-30 mins, until tender.
Lyndey’s Note: Butternut pumpkin, while it is perfect for soup, is not ideal for this cooking technique as it collapses when well cooked. So, try to use a Jap, Jarrahdale or Queensland Blue. This recipe can also be cooked in the oven.
Vegetable balls like these are popular all over the Peloponnese in Greece. These were the lightest we tried and were not doughy at all. They can be rolled small as finger food, or cooked in larger, flatter patties as an entree or part of a meze. A food processor is great for grating the pumpkin.
Makes 40 balls
Prep and cook time 15 minutes
- 1kg pumpkin, grated, squeezed dry
- 5 green onions (shallots), finely sliced
- 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
- 1 cup (150g) plain flour
- 200ml extra virgin olive oil, for frying
- Combine the pumpkin, green onion, mint, parsley and flour, and mix well. Season with salt.
- Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium heat. Form heaped tablespoons of the pumpkin mixture into flat cakes. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden and cooked through. Serve immediately.
Lyndey’s note: It is important to use a firm pumpkin for this recipe. Butternut is not suitable.
Recipe from Lyndey & Blair’s Taste of Greece SBS TV Food Series and accompanying book.
Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
Pumpkin soup is a perennial favourite. Here it is given an Asian twist with the addition of spice and coconut. Orange sweet potato can be substituted for the pumpkin, but it gives a thicker puree so you will need to add a little more stock.
Serves: 4 as a main or 6 as an entrée
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
- 1 small or ½ large (approx. 1 kg or 2 lb) butternut pumpkin, unpeeled
- 1 tablespoon (20 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon or more freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro) seeds
- 1½ cups (375 ml/12 fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1½ cups (375 ml/12 fl oz) coconut milk
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) lemon juice
- ½ bunch fresh coriander (cilantro)
- Peel and seed pumpkin and cut into chunks. Heat a frying pan with some olive oil and cook onion, without browning, until softened. Increase heat and add ginger and coriander seeds. Add pumpkin, turning to coat in oil (about 1 minute). Add stock, cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until pumpkin is soft.
- Puree contents of pan in a food processor, gradually adding coconut milk. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- To serve, ladle into bowls and sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves.
Wine match: Serve with chilled sherry, or try a blended white wine, such as a Semillon/Chardonnay, Semillon/sauvignon blanc or classic dry white three-blend style.
Recipe from Lyndey Milan, The Best Collection (2009 and 2013)
Gnocchi with Pumpkin, Horseradish and Spinach
Serves: Approx 8, depending on the size of the pumpkin
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 65 mins
- 1 large butternut pumpkin, approx. 1.5 kg (3 lb)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 red chillies, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon horseradish
- 1¼ cups (310 ml/10 fl oz) fresh cream
- 1 cup (250 ml/8 fl oz) chicken stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- nutmeg, to taste
- 1 kg (2 lb) gnocchi
- ½ bunch spinach or 1 bunch silverbeet
- Pre-heat oven to 200°C (400°F, Gas Mark 6).
- Peel the butternut pumpkin and cut into chunks. Place in a baking dish and drizzle with honey and roast until soft, around an hour.
- Purée the pumpkin in a food processor, then place in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the
- chillies, a teaspoon or more of horseradish, fresh cream, a cup or so of chicken stock (more if the pumpkin is large), salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Bring to a simmer. (This can also be done in the microwave).
- Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to packet instructions.
- Roll up some leaves of spinach into a cigar shape and slice finely to make a chiffonade. Stir through the sauce and serve over hot pasta.
Lyndey’s note: It’s important to match your pasta to the sauce you are using. Thick sauces like this one need a chunky pasta which can stand up to it—it could even be pasta shells or rigatoni. This is an unusual combination that makes a delicious pasta sauce. You can just throw it together, relying on your tastebuds rather than using specific quantities.
Wine match: The full, rounded flavours of a rich Chardonnay stand up to both the texture and flavour of the sauce, the tannins in the wine cleansing the mouth between mouthfuls.
Recipe from Lyndey Milan, The Best Collection (New Holland 2009 and 2013)
I am especially fond of Dijonnaise, a blend of Dijon, seeded mustard and mayonnaise, delicious on its own with grilled meats or even fish, or a great shortcut to a sauce.
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
- 6 tablespoons Dijonnaise (mustard)
- 125 g (4 oz) softened butter
- 6 spatchcocks or poussin (baby chicken)
- 6 whole crowns of garlic
- 30 large, flat Italian beans
- 1 kg (2 lb) butternut pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons butter
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to moderately hot, 200°C fan-forced (400°F, Gas Mark 6).
- Combine equal quantities of mustard and butter. Using your fingers, force about 2 tablespoons of this mixture under the skin and over the breast of each spatchcock. Place in oven with 1 whole crown of garlic per person—slice off the top before cooking to reveal the garlic cloves.
- Meanwhile, bake, steam or microwave pumpkin until very soft. Mash with butter, salt and pepper, adding a little more butter, cream, milk or stock if it is too stiff.
- After 20 minutes, check if spatchcocks are cooked by piercing the thickest part of thighs. If juices run clear, they are cooked. Otherwise, return to the oven for another 5–10 minutes. Remove with the garlic to a warm plate to rest, upending the spatchcock so that any juices inside run into the baking dish.
- Boil the contents of the baking pan over high heat while you cook some Italian beans in salted boiling water for a few minutes.
To serve: place a mound of pumpkin puree on each plate. Place the beans, spatchcock and garlic (which will now be sweet and soft and squeeze easily out of its skin) on the plate and drizzle with pan juices.
Wine Match: Choose a lighter style of red wine, such as pinot noir, an Italian varietal like Sangiovese, or a Chardonnay to balance the buttery flavours of this dish, with just a little kick from the mustard.
Recipe from Lyndey Milan, The Best Collection (New Holland, 2009 and 2013)