My four year old has hair the colour of the inside of a ripe pumpkin so you’d think she’d have an affinity with it, but alas she won’t touch the stuff. Of course not everyone likes pumpkin – they feed it to the cows in Britain a practice that I think she would approve of. However the variety they feed to the cows is different – stringy, lacking in flavour and an unappetising pale yellow colour, completely unlike the ones we grow in Australia. Frankly I think she must just be a bit strange because pumpkin is clearly delicious – sweet, velvety and perfect for all kinds of dishes. A roast wouldn’t be a roast without pumpkin, it makes a beautiful soup, is perfect with pasta and even makes a mean pie. What’s not to like? For all its positives though, is it the perfect plant for a suburban backyard? Well that very much depends on two things, how much you like your lawn and how much you like pumpkin.
How I grow pumpkin:
It did take me a number of goes to get my seeds to germinate, I think the first lot were too early and the second I sowed in normal potting mix rather than seed raising mix so they rotted rather the germinating. The third attempt – which was in late August was successful. I sowed the seeds in 7.5cm pots. Pumpkins don’t like having their roots disturbed so you need to sow their seed into something allows for minimal root disturbance when you transplant them; for instance small pots or even toilet rolls used as an opened bottom pot would be ideal. You can sow seed direct but bear in mind that many varieties take a number of months to ripen and you need it to be reasonably warm for that to happen. Pumpkins are not frost hardy in the slightest.
This year is the first year I have actually grown pumpkin in my garden, mainly because I knew they liked to take over and previously I didn’t think I had the space. But this year I had a plan, I would grow them on the edge of the bed and allow the vines to trail over the paved area of our backyard. It was a great plan, I would be maximising the growing space my yard has to offer with an attractive plant which produced great fruit. The only problem of course is that pumpkin vines don’t just grow one way, they grow in all directions – very vigorously (at least the Bohemian variety does) . You can prune them of course but when all the female flowers are on the bit of vine growing over where you planned to plant sweet corn you do tend to fairly loathe to cut it off. Sweet corn can wait surely! Then when you’ve got beautiful pumpkins forming on the bit of vine on the lawn you don’t cut that either and so on it goes until you are swamped in vine with little room for anything else.
I grew two varieties: Bohemian and Butternut. The Bohemian was by far the more vigorous plant and did very much take over, especially as I had two plants of it to one butternut. From the butternut I got one fruit (rodents ate at least 2 other fertilised pumpkins at a fairly early stage) and from the Bohemians I have 7 massive fruit, 4 of which are still on the vine. I did have problems with the pumpkins – they got powdery mildew and went from looking great to looking fairly awful. I have previously posted on my attempts to get rid of the powdery mildew but one thing I would say is that despite having powdery mildew since February and my cutting off most of the leaves, as they deteriorated, it doesn’t seem to have had much visual effect on the ripening of the actual fruit.
I harvested my first pumpkin at the start of April – A Bohemian and in all honesty it was a little disappointing but frankly I don’t think it was fully ripe. Pumpkins are ripe when the stem dries out and this had yet to do that but I had to harvest it after my toddler rode his trike over its stem….. The flavour was OK when roasted with a bit of soy sauce mixed with the oil to bring out the sweetness but it still tasted a bit green. Then 2 weeks ago I harvested a ripe butternut and 2 ripe Bohemians. When harvesting you should want to retain at least a few cms of stalk on the pumpkin to prolong the time it can be stored for.
I have yet to do anything with the Bohemian as I have been advised that in cooler climates (and this summer Melbourne has not been particularly warm) its good to leave them to rest for a month before cutting into them. Yesterday though impatience got the better of me and I cut open the butternut and roasted half to go with a roast chicken.
Really good – fabulous colour and texture with a slightly chestnutty flavour. It wasn’t particularly sweet though and I suspect that is because it hasn’t been a particularly warm summer. I think it should make good gnocchi though.
How I use it:
Pumpkin Gnocchi with a creamy leek sauce
Serves 4 – 6
- 1kg pumpkin
- 100g finely grated parmesan
- 250g sifted plain flour
- Salt & pepper
- 1 head garlic
- 2 leeks – finely shredded
- 20g butter
- Olive oil for roasting
- 250ml stock
- 100ml cream
Cut pumpkin into large pieces (for 1kg about 6 pieces would be right). Roast the pumpkin & head of garlic in a 200 degree oven for about ½ hour or until cooked. The pumpkin may take longer than the garlic. Allow pumpkin to cool completely. Meanwhile make the sauce. Saute the shredded leeks in the butter and sweat until cooked. Squeeze the garlic from its skin and add to leeks. Add stock and cook until the stock has reduced by half. Add cream and season with salt and pepper. Stir and bring to the boil. Keep warm while you make the gnocchi. One the pumpkin has cooled completely mash it very gently (if you are too vigorous too much water will come out of the pumpkin and you will need to use more flour – thus diluting the pumpkin taste of the gnocchi). Add parmesan and 200g of the flour, season with salt and pepper. Mix gently. Spread the remainder of the flour on a board and use it to roll the pumpkin mixture (which will be quite wet) into long snakes which are about 2cm in diameter. Cut the gnocchi snakes into 3cm long pieces. Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water (as you would pasta). The gnocchi is cooked when it floats to the surface. Drain and arrange on plates pouring the sauce over the top. Top with additional parmesan and chopped spring onions or chives.