Ah, the soft glow of mid-Autumn.
Us women change down a hue in our foundation and powder (Summer is over gals – no need for such a bronze face now, it looks funny and probably won’t match your neck. Embrace your inner Dita Von Teese instead).
And meals. Ah, yes. Lunches and dinners become that little bit heartier and red wine gets a proper look in again.
As much as I love everything about Summer, you do get to the end of the season and think “there are probably some other foods beyond mangos, berries and Greek salad.” *
Autumn heralds a food that I look forward to every year. No, not JUST apples (bet you didn’t know that there are NINE different delicious varieties here in Australia that are best and cheapest during Autumn? I amaze and slightly scare myself that I knew this before I googled it…)
I’m talking PUMPKIN. I actually start getting excited about pumpkins in October when we see pics of Hollywood popstars and celebs hitting the famous pumpkin patch and getting into Halloween.
So with the harvest bounties of ‘Fall’ not sprouting here in Australia until March / April, I have five or six months of mouth-watering anticipation for that versatile, vermilion vegetable.**^
Pumpkins are super easy to cook and ridiculously good for you.
Full of antioxidants, potassium and vitamins A, B5, C and E, pumpkin promotes healthy vision, strong bones and supports your immune system (bye-bye pesky colds).
The beta-carotene may reverse skin damage caused by the sun (me = a former year-round swimmer) and reduce redness and aches as it acts as an anti-inflammatory. It’s also full of fibre and low in calories and fat so it fills you up without turning you into a fatty.
Pumpkin’s awesome levels of magnesium and B5 also mean that pumpkin helps with your energy levels and balances your hormones which, in turn, helps you out when you’ve had a hell day of stressful deadlines, yelling kids or crazy customers.
You just need a little bit of space.
This, sadly, I do not have. Renting a small apartment while saving to buy a a slightly less-small apartment (I live close to the city in Sydney, enough said) means that I have a balcony that fits a BBQ, a table, my herb garden and a potted palm that just won’t die, no matter how long I forget to water it.
This is where I call upon the inspiration of my wonderful parents.
They live in the country in the South-East of South Australia.
Being gardening enthusiasts, they somehow became involved with the Mount Gambier Community Garden. The garden has sprung from the grounds of an old Goal which was built in 1866 but not used for housing prisoners since the late 80′s.
The garden follows organic principles and has 46 plots, most individual but some are used communally for easily grown food like potatoes, onions, garlic and asparagus. There’s also an orchard that everyone can enjoy that grows fresh apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, walnuts and citrus fruits. Eventually they’re going to include a chook shed for fresh, free-range eggs. The 10m2 plots are rented out for a measly $7 a month which includes soil, water, manures, use of tools, and a key, for access anytime.
But this isn’t just some regional thing, there are community gardens all over Australia where you can get your hands dirty (and your tastebuds set alight) and this includes all of the major metro cities. Just check out www.communitygarden.org.au to find out more.
Recently, Ma and Pa Brown’s garden have also run ‘The Big Pumpkin Competition’.
Frankly, I thought that they were a shoe-in to win…
But their 46.1kg monster pumpkin came ninth!
The winner? Just a trim, taught, terrific 104.7kg.
My niece and nephew did take home prizes for their ‘Best Dressed’ pumpkins though. They created Captain Jack Sparrow and Miss Piggy and came first and second, winning their very own gardening pack. Bless…
Winning aside, my family, their friends, their colleagues, their mechanics, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are all going to be eating a lot of pumpkin over the next month or so. Which brings me to a delicious recipe just for you…
This is a simple but pretty-much-perfect pumpkin soup.
1. Roast the pumpkin first- By roasting it, you’re unleashing the flavour. Roasting makes the pumpkin taste sweeter, richer and nuttier. It also means you don’t have to get an arm workout trying to cut one up first – just whack the whole thing (or pieces that you get from the shop), straight in the oven on about 180°C and then when it’s soft and cooked (could take a few hours, depending on how much there is), scoop the soft flesh away from the skin.
2. Use liquid stock- if you can help it, don’t use powdered stock. Liquid tastes totally different. Less salty, less fake and just tastier. Maggie Beer makes a great one, so does Vegeta, but generally most are quite tasty and you can even choose a low-salt version if you’re trying to cut back. I’d use Chicken stock but vegetable is fine too. If you’re really keen, you could even make your own by boiling up a chicken…
You can play around with the flavours by using different types of pumpkin i.e. Japanese, butternut, blue and also different herbs and spices. I’m using cumin, turmeric, nutmeg and coriander but you don’t have to use any of these. Grated fresh ginger is great. Or try roasting the pumpkin pieces with sprigs of rosemary.
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 1 (about 1kg) pumpkin
- 40ml (2 tbs) olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
- 750ml (3 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 250ml (1 cup) of skim milk, sour cream or creme fraiche (depending on how creamy or low-fat you want to make it)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180°C and pop pumpkin on a lightly oiled baking tray and roast for approx 45 minutes, or until soft. Scoop out seeds and throw away then scrape out the yummy pumpkin flesh and ditch the skin.
- Heat oil in a big saucepan and cook the onion and carrots for 5 minutes until softened. Add cooked pumpkin, stock, 2 cups water and the spices. Add some salt and pepper.
- Get it to boiling point then simmer for 30 minutes.
- Let it cool slightly then use a hand blender to puree it and smooth out all of the lumps and bumps.
- When you’re ready to eat, stir through the milk, sour cream or creme fraiche and gently reheat.
- Serve with a sprinkle of nutmeg or fresh coriander. Some delish seedy bread would be good with this, or sourdough. For Sydney-siders, I’m currently obsessed with Iggy’s bread but for supermarket bread, you can’t go past a good piece of Helga’s pumpkin five seed.
*And raspberry icypoles or hazelnut and / or coconut gelati.
** Vermilion is technically red or scarlet. Pumpkins generally come in shades of green, through to yellow and dark orange. But I couldn’t find a correct pumpkin colour that started with ‘V’, so in the interests of my alliteration obsession, let’s all pretend. If you DO know a word for green, yellow or orange that starts with ‘V’, please tell me, don’t leave a girl hanging!
^ Oh, for crying out loud. Pumpkin is actually a FRUIT! Let’s just change that who phrase to “fabulous, flexible, flame-coloured fruit”.