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Seedheads and blue skies

I am ever-so thankful for the beautiful sunny (if rather chilly!) autumn days we’ve had over the weekend and at the start of the week here in Cheshire – particularly so, because less than a week ago I was still soaking up the heat and basking under spotless blue skies in Greece.  I’ve got so many lovely things to share from our holiday but before that I wanted to just enjoy a few snaps of all that I love about an English autumn.

There are pumpkins at the farm shop, I can’t help but fall in love with all those shades of orange – I just wish the little punks in our neighbourhood wouldn’t see a pile of them by my front door as a good excuse for some street football. B*%!@^#s.

Pumpkins

This morning I made some chicken stock with a leftover roast chicken carcass, I am trying harder to find time to do this and it is so satisfying to have your own homemade stock.  The best I’ve made so far went solid like jelly, which is a sure sign of its tastiness.

Homemade chicken stock

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So we’ve had two pumpkins in particular that have been steadily growing in size.  I can’t quite believe I planted a variety that grows so big, but hey-ho, it’s all good fun.

Tomorrow we’ve got our local Produce Show so we’re going to enter one of them along with some potatoes, possibly some tomatoes, and a few other bits and pieces.

This past weekend we went to Bath for a weekend away with friends.  On Saturday morning whilst I was waiting for Mr Rigg to arrive by train, I ventured in to the Bath Farmer’s Market – and what treats awaited me!

Incredible veggies – like these pink stripey beetroot and mixed carrots.  I bought a bunch of each.

Wonderful cured meats and sausages – bottom right is pancetta and Coppa, both of which found their way into my shopping bag, along with some Italian pinwheel sausages (back top left). 

Mushrooms of all kinds – I bought a box of those teeny tiny ‘Paris Browns’.

Cheeses of all kinds, including the award winning Bath Soft Cheese – somewhere between a Brie and a Camembert.

This is the lovely oil man, selling rapeseed oil made from his farm’s crops, and also making a selection of delicious dressings.  I usually make all my own salad dressings, but I couldn’t resist a bottle of his creamy Quince and Cider dressing.

The quince lady…well that’s not her real name (a bit more on her soon) selling a selection of beautiful homemade quince products.  Syrups, jellies, sweets and quince paste.

The choice of vegetables available at the farmer’s markets is outstanding.  All farmers markets around the country should have this kind of choice.  Everyone around the country should have access to vegetables like these.  Dark bunches of cavolo nero and pumpkins of all sizes and colours.

The aforementioned flowerpot bread – cheese and herb I think, baked in a terracotta flowerpot to give it that unusual shape.  Also deliciously tasty!

If you ever thought winter vegetables could be boring, here’s a picture to change your mind – amber pumpkins, pinky-purple onions, muddy carrots, fat beetroot, stalks of sprouts, bundles of spinach, dark curly kale, crisp stalks of celery, fresh broccoli, and the wrinkly savoy cabbage or those tinged violet.

And this stall selling their own cheeses, and various cheese products and accompaniments – chutney, cheesecake, soft cheese, and curd tarts.  I bought some of their ewes cheese which was incredibly delicious.

halloween

N and I are away for the weekend visiting friends and relatives – have a lovely Hallow’een weekend!

So the Mexican party last night was lovely, lots of sombreros and homemade ponchos, Maria brought maracas, and we ate a lot of chilli, baked potatoes, tortilla chips and wraps.  Ours friends Katie and Kate, who’s party it was, have just finished doing their back yard and it looked stunning – they’ve painted the walls a cream colour and trellis in a mossy green, they’ve put some decking down and built raised beds that are full of interesting plants.  It was just a really lovely place to sit out with friends.

Here are some pretty flowers and herbs from my garden that I made into a posy for our friends as a gift.  This little bunch was so fragrant – with lavender, sweetpeas, marjoram and mint – I would definitely recommend using popping a couple of sprigs of herbs into a bunch of flowers.

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Today has been another warm day in Cheshire, so N and I headed straight down to the allotment to trim the long grass, water and put in a few more plants I’ve been growing from seedlings.

The strawberries we inherited on the allotment are plumping up nicely, we are just waiting for then to start blushing and turning red…and hope the rabbits don’t get to them first!

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The purple sprouting broccoli (the green plant towards the back of the pic) has shot up since we last went down, and Maria’s brussel sprout plants (the purple plant in the foreground) are looking equally healthy.  Even the three smaller plants that aren’t enclosed by my snazzy wire fence are doing well and haven’t (yet! touchwood!) been decimated by the rabbits.

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I also discovered a number of small cabbage white caterpillars on one of the broccoli plants, so I have carefully pinched the leaves off, brought the caterpillars home and have lovingly encouraged them onto some of my nasturtium plants.  Mad you may say, why didn’t I “dispose” of them you ask, well I like butterflies and I’m happy to sacrifice some of my nasturtiums for them.

Some of the sweetcorn (like this one) are doing well, others look a bit piddly, but rumour has it we’ve got rain this week, so hopefully that might pick the smaller ones up a little.

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N cleared a patch of ground where pumpkins had previously been grown, and I planted four Uchi Kuri pumpkin plants that I have tended from seed.  In between them I also dug in a couple of nasturtiums because I just love the way they trail and ramble over everything and their jolly flowers.

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So overall the allotment is looking pretty good, taking into consideration that this year we just haven’t had the time to clear and tidy it properly.  Rather things are just growing between the tall grasses and weeds, but growing they are.  Next year we will work on making it look pretty and neat.

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blue squash :: at home ::

Following on from my last post, I have decided to dedicate this post to pumkins and squashes.  I have a strange love affair with pumpkins and squashes – I am drawn to them with their beautiful curves and gorgeous colours, but I almost prefer them as a work of art, rather than food to be eaten.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to cook them in a way that I enjoy, and my partner N particularly dislikes their flavour, which means that I am even more unlikely to cook them.  I am seduced by them at the grocers, and then they end up as ornaments in our kitchen.  I was really quite upset when I hacked apart my pale slate blue “Blue Squash” and transformed it into a risotto.  I really enjoyed it but N ate it grudgingly, slightly happier with crispy pancetta disguising the flavour.  I think I truly preferred it as a ornament, an object of beauty to admire in my kitchen.

A few model shots of the squash that was (how I miss it!) and below is my squash risotto recipe – in my bid to make a squash risotto I liked (I am generally put off by the recipes that have large chunks of squash in them) I blended up my squash before adding it to the rice.  It made the most fantastic, golden orange risotto.

my curvy blue squash

my curvy blue squash

 

ornamental squash

ornamental squash

Squash Risotto

Serves 2

1/2 autumn squash or pumpkin
6oz risotto rice
1 small onion
500ml vegetable stock
Glug of dry white wine
Generous knob of butter
Olive oil
Dollop of creme fraiche
Pancetta (optional)

 

Heat your oven to around 200°C.  Cut up the sqaush into chunks, put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft.  Remove and cool.

In a large saucepan or deep frying pan heat the knob of butter and a drop of olive oil.  While the oil is heating, finely chop your onion.  When the butter starts to gently bubble, add the onion and a generous grinding of black pepper, and cook until soft.

Make sure your stock is warm.  Add the glug of white wine and a ladleful of stock – it should boil furiously for a couple of minutes until the liquid has reduced by half.  Now pour in the rice and stir continuously for a couple more minutes.

You want to make sure it’s a gentle heat and then simply start adding in a ladleful of stock at a time, stirring the risotto until the liquid is absorbed, then adding another ladleful and so on until all the stock in used up.  This usually takes around 20 minutes.  If the heat is too high the liquid disappears too quickly and you’ll find you have to use more stock. 

Meanwhile, peel any skin from the roasted squash and blend to a puree.  When the risotto is nearly done, add the puree and stir well – it goes quite sticky.  If you want to fry off some pancetta until crispy, now is the time to do so, you could also drop in a couple of sage leaves as well.

Stir in a dollop of creme fraiche and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil – and crispy pancetta and sage if you wish.

Eat.

*Note: This froze well and was quickly reheated in a pan.*

On this rainy, bitterly cold day I thought I would like to write about some of the vegetable gardens that I have seen on my travels.  I have decided to start in France, more specifically in the Loire Valley region, which is where I have stayed on my last two visits.  We camp at a delightful, intimate campsite run by an expat-English family – we can highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a rustic, relaxing break.  The campsite is called Le Chant D’Oiseau and more info can be found at http://www.loire-gites.com/.

Anyways, back to vegetable gardens.  Our visit at the end of the summer was full of diverting down side streets and peering over walls to see what other people were growing in their gardens.  The hot summer weather in the Loire allows for tomatoes such as these to thrive, which makes me incredibly jealous as I think back to my poor attempts.

big round juicy tomatoes :: Loire Valley, France ::

This small vegetable garden in a small hillside town on the banks of Loire river shows that the smallest of spaces can be productive – look at those squash plants!  I was very curious about the number of plants and herbs that were dug into the ground in pots…any suggestions as to why?

small town garden :: Loire Valley, France ::

We passed the pumpkin below on a scenic (or perhaps slightly lost) route we took through some vineyards, and N was instructed to pull over while I ran back to get a photo.  Consequently, we discovered a beautiful old property opposite the pumpkin patch that we fell in love with and momentarily lost our heads in gidding thoughts of selling up and moving to rural France.  I shall never forget that house with its warm sunbathed courtyard. 

orange pumpkin :: lost in the Loire Valley, France ::

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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