Pumpkins: Where to pick ’em, how to carve ’em, how to cook ’em
Several Irish farms host pumpkin-picking events in the run-up to Halloween
Children select pumpkins at Kennedy’s Pumpkin Patch near Julianstown, Co Meath. Photograph: Wilde Photography
Where can I pick a pumpkin for Halloween?
There are at least 10 farmers growing pumpkins in Ireland now, and many of these farms host pumpkin-picking events in the run-up to Halloween.
Alright Pumpkins near Fordstown, Co Meath grows thousands of pumpkins which visitors can pick themselves. Farmer Tom Dillon decided to grow pumpkins after seeing pumpkin patches all across the United States. “I spent a year working on combine harvesting in America in 2012 and I thought the pumpkin patches looked super cool. I have a tillage farm, and now I grow sweetcorn and potatoes as well as pumpkins,” he explains.
Alrightpumpkin.com, open October 22nd, 28th-31st, 11am-4pm, no entry charge, pumpkins cost from €5.
Kennedy’s Pumpkin Patch near Julianstown, Co Meath, is one of the best-known and most popular farms to visit, with about 5,000 pumpkins harvested this year. But, they’re fully booked for this season so keep them in mind for next year (kennedyspumpkinpatch.com).
Ballycross Apple Farm near Bridgetown, Co Wexford, offers visitors tractor and trailer or horse-drawn trailer trips to select pumpkins. Pumpkin-picking Oct 28-31. Apple-picking Nov 1-5.
Ballycross.com, open October 28th-November 5th, noon-6pm, admission €4 adults/€3 children and €1.50 for rides.
Ladyrath Lane in Wilkinstown, Co Meath, sells pumpkins on site and offers children a chance to carve them in a Halloween-themed barn.
Ladyrathlane.ie, open October 21st, 22nd, 28th, 30th, 31st, 10.30am-4.30pm, and October 29th 9.30am-4.30pm, €10 per family, pumpkins cost €3-€10.
Tinahely Farm in Coolross, Tinahely, Co Wicklow, also offers tractor and trailer rides to visitors who want to personally select pumpkins in the field.
Tinahelyfarm.ie, October 28th, 29th, noon-3pm, every half an hour, €14.50 per child which includes hot chocolate and access to an activity barn, adults go free.
What else can you do in these places?
Visitors to Alright Pumpkins can also pick sweetcorn and potatoes and watch pumpkin-carving demonstrations. Visitors to Ballycross Apple Farm can pick apples or go on a 5km walking trail through the farm. There’s also a waffle and crèpe bar and a farm shop with chutneys, juices and jams. Younger children can play on pedal tractors, go on pony rides and help with the animal feeding.
Tinahely Farm has a selection of farm animals including Kerry cows, white kid goats, pot-bellied pigs, llamas and ponies. If it rains, there’s go-karting, and giant chess and Connect-Four games to play in the activity barn. Also, an impressively stocked farm shop and restaurant.
Ladyrath Lane also offers two-day arts, crafts, games and animal-care Halloween camps on November 3rd and 4th, 10am-2pm for €35 and Halloween movies for 5-11-year-olds from 3pm on October 30th for €7.50. And, at Kennedy’s Pumpkin Patch, children can go through a spooky tunnel and puzzle their way through a hay maze.
Why are pumpkins associated with Halloween?
Traditionally, at Halloween, people carried turnips, potatoes or beet with a burning lump of coal or candle inside them. However, as the festival of Halloween was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants, the native pumpkins were seen to be ideal fruit to turn into jack-o-lanterns.
The dressing up in ghoulish costumes, calling to neighbours for trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins then spread back across the Atlantic Ocean and is widely celebrated in Ireland and across Europe.
The word Halloween is derived from All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day on November 1st. In the ninth century, Christian churches grafted this festival on to the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. In pre-Christian Ireland and Britain, people believed the spirits of the dead revisited their homes and all kinds of ghosts, goblins, witches and demons roamed the land. The festival of Samhain signalled the division between the lighter half of the year and the darker half. At Samhain, people believed the division between this world and the other world was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, bonfires were lit across the land and people wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves.
Any advice on how to carve one of these?
Pumpkins are difficult to carve and sharp tools are required so generally speaking, it’s best left to older children and even then under adult supervision.
They can also go mouldy within three days, so take steps to avoid this, and don’t carve them too close to Halloween.
The first thing to do is to cut out a circular opening in the top of the pumpkin with a medium sharp kitchen knife. Specialist tools are often available in supermarkets at this time of year, but avoid plastic. Strong metal kitchen utensils and even a saw from the toolbox might do a better job.
Scoop out all the pulp and seeds and leave them aside if you want to use for cooking – dump if not. The less gunk and strings you leave, the less likely the pumpkin is to rot.
Next, you can sketch out or use stencils to map out the patterns you want on your pumpkin. For example, you can choose between circular or triangular eyes, small holes for nostrils and a fang like smile or more ornate eyes with separate eye brows and a thin sneaky smile.
Adept pumpkin-carvers can cut out witches, bats and ghosts. There are many inventive and elaborate templates available online.
A more extreme rot-proof solution is to then rinse the pumpkin thoroughly in water and then steep it for two minutes in a bleach and water mixture, then letting it air-dry fully.
There are other ways of preserving pumpkins: rubbing inside and out with cooking oil or Vaseline is said to work. There’s a spray available online called “Pumpkin Fresh” that does the same thing.
Use tea light candles to fill pumpkins with light and replace the circular top to maintain the orange glow.
Do they taste good?
That depends on your preference. Pumpkin pie is traditionally served at Thanksgiving in north America. Pumpkin dips, soups, smoothies and cakes are also popular, but roasted pumpkin seeds are probably the simplest thing to make.
Once you’ve separated the seeds from all the stringy pulp, you lay them out thinly on an oiled baking sheet. Roast at 150ºC for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and toss in olive oil, salt and your favourite spices and cook for a further 20 minutes until crisp and golden.
- 450g pumpkin pulp
- 500ml water
- 200g butter
- 300g soft brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 300g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 150g sultanas
Place the pumpkin pulp and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until tender. Drain water and leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a 20x28cm or 25cm diameter round tin with baking parchment. Cream butter and sugar. Mash the cooked pumpkin and add to mixture. Whisk the eggs and add to the mixture. Then fold in flour, spices, sultanas and salt.
Tip the batter into the tin and bake for about one hour until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Dust lightly with icing sugar or decorate with water icing. (Adapted from Cake by Rachel Allen).