THE run-up to Halloween seems to start almost as early as Christmas these days.
My local supermarket has been decked out in spooky bunting for weeks now while the shelves have been groaning under the weight of trick or treat sweets and pumpkins.
Carving pumpkins to make grotesque faces or lanterns is a long-standing Halloween tradition. Pumpkin carving is among a host of family events taking place this half-term at Trust properties across the North East, along with creepy Halloween-inspired biscuit decorating, witches’ potion-making, scary storytelling and terrifying trails.
It’s sad that so many pumpkins end their lives as frightening effigies, the contents scooped out and thrown in the bin.
For pumpkins are an incredibly versatile vegetable. They can be roasted, mashed, boiled and fried and turned into savoury and sweet pies and soups.
It’s the perfect accompaniment for a host of seasonal comfort foods like sausages and mash, casseroles, roast dinners and even curries.
You can even eat the seeds. Pick them out of the flush, clean them off, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the seeds and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Drain them, spread them in an even layer on a baking tray, drizzle over a little olive, vegetable or rapeseed oil and cook them in a hot oven for 15 minutes or so (make sure they don’t burn). Leave them to cool completely, and hey presto, you have a healthy Halloween snack.
For an extra trick or treat you can cook them in flavoured oil (there are some great ones available infused with chilli or garlic) or sprinkle them with sea salt.
Or you could try growing your own pumpkins for next year by drying the seeds out (a cupboard would be ideal), planting them in a pot and when they sprout either putting them into a bigger container or out into the garden.
Then you could tick off number 41, ‘plant it, grow it, eat it’, on the National Trust’s list of 50 Things to Do Before You’re 11¾, aimed at getting children – and the young at heart – off the sofa and into the great outdoors.
This time of year isn’t just about pumpkins, however. With the hour going back it’s also officially goodbye to British Summer Time, and hello to comforting autumn food.
The first few weeks of winter are always a difficult time, but we’re aiming to make the transition as easy as possible here at the National Trust this year, on the foodie front at least.
Until November 4, selected National Trust tearooms and restaurants across the UK are offering a free pudding with every lunchtime main meal over £5.75. Cragside, Wallington and Gibside are participating here in the North East.
All you have to do is download a special voucher (details at the end of this page), bring it along with you to one of the properties and choose from a range of seasonal puddings.
The promotion is the Trust’s answer to the news that the great British pudding is dying out in favour of foreign imports.
The trust is famed for the high quality of its cakes and desserts, and nothing says autumn more than a pie or crumble drenched in warm custard or cream. This time of year is all about blackberries, pears, apples, medlars, figs, elderberries, damsons, plums, nuts, and yes, pumpkins.
You’ll find the whole gamut of warming seasonal desserts at Trust eateries – with many of the ingredients being sourced directly from National Trust gardens, tenant farmers and local suppliers.
Also, why not try recreating one of the Trust’s delicious recipes for yourself at home? There are lots of indulgent pudding ideas on the website from mulled wine pears to rhubarb and orange Betty.
To find out more about what’s happening at National Trust properties across the North East go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/local-to-you/north-east/ Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/NorthEastNT or Twitter: @NorthEastNT
Seasonal National Trust pudding recipes can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk. Click on the Get Involved tab, then Build Your Skills and finally How-to Guides for a huge selection of recipes and videos.
To download the free autumnal pudding voucher go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/pudding
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