Pumpkins: What A Carve Up!

As British pumpkin sales enjoy their annual purple patch, Alice-Azania Jarvis and Gillian Orr present their guide to souping up your squash

Pumpkins are big business at this time of year.

We may think of Hallowe'en as an American celebration, but the popularity of the pumpkin – ideal for carving into frightening lanterns – has surged in the UK. Just ask the country's farmers, who jostle for a piece of the £5m industry. David Bowman, the country's largest producer, owns 500 acres of prime farming land in Spalding, Lincolnshire, from which he churns out three million pumpkins each year. He and his fellow farmers must be meticulous in their planning, ensuring the crop is ready at the precise time that we all come knocking.

This year has seen the pumpkin market expand to incorporate all sorts of quirky varieties: stores are stocking everything from mini-pumpkins (or "munchkins", small enough to pile up in your fruit bowl) to picture-perfect "Cinderella" numbers. But if you're hoping to net yourself a super-sized fruit, you may have to reconsider. After an exceptionally dry spring and cool summer, sizes are rather more modest than usual. Still, don't let that dampen your enthusiasm. Be it the new-found "it" status of Los Angeles' Pumpkin Patch, the countless delicious ways to use up leftover pumpkin (pâte de fruits, anyone?) or the range of hi-tech incarnations, there is ample reason to get excited about this spooky fruit.

Pimp Your Pumpkin: A Hallowe'en User's Guide

First, find your pumpkin

Waitrose has a 40kg "sumo" pumpkin, while at the other end of the spectrum are 100g Miniature Munchkin Pumpkins. Sainsbury's is anticipating a 10 per cent increase in year-on-year sales. Morrisons is reporting a record 500,000 sales. Alternatively, imitate the Americans and go to the growers. In the US, pumpkin patches are where the stars stock up. LA's Mr Bones patch has been visited by Jessica Alba, Ben Affleck and Heidi Klum. The Obamas were spotted getting theirs in Hampton, Virginia.

Something completely different

Throwing a party? Instead of carving a lantern, cut your pumpkin in half, scoop out the flesh, fill the bottom with ice and use to keep drinks cool. Completely covering small pumpkins with white glue and sprinkling them with glitter will make lovely, unusual decorations. Treat trick-or-treaters by marking tiny holes all over a pumpkin with a skewer and then fill the holes with lollipops. Or check out the online "memorial" pumpkins to Steve Jobs, featuring either his face or the Apple logo.

It's what's inside that counts

Use up pumpkin flesh by following the advice of Daniel Clifford, head chef at Midsummer House, and make a chicken and pumpkin casserole: "To cook the pumpkin, cut off the top, scrape out the seeds, put salt, pepper and butter on it, replace the lid and wrap in clingfilm. Pop it in the microwave and cook in one-minute intervals until soft." Add it to a chicken, or try a pumpkin risotto with Parmesan. "Confit the pumpkin slowly and stir that through. Scatter some of the larger pumpkin chunks over at the last minute." For a sweet treat make pâte de fruits. "Juice the pumpkin and make a jelly," Clifford says. "Roll it in crushed pine nuts when it's set."

Grow your own

Choose a variety (try the the dinky baby bear, the carving-friendly jack-o'-lantern, or the record-breaking Atlantic giant) and start early. In March, plant your seed (find high-quality breeds online) in a pot and leave in a greenhouse. When the weather improves, put in a well-manured planting hole. For a bumper pumpkin, remove all but one fruit. Keep in the shade during summer and warm at night. Water it by leaving a hose running for an hour a day but avoid wetting the foliage. Feed regularly with manure.

Sci-fi squash

Pumpkins got a sci-fi makeover this year in the film Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space, a Hallowe'en-themed spin-off from the phenomenally successful Monsters vs Aliens. Smartphone owners can also have some orange-hued fun with Pumpkins vs. Monsters, a puzzle action video game that sees players flicking pumpkins at marauding monsters. For lazy carvers, let electricity take the strain and use power tools to pimp your carving. See goo.gl/c5Ru1 for more info.

Can't find one? Use your melon

Having trouble finding a pumpkin? There are alternatives. Hurricane Irene and a widespread fungus have led to a huge shortage of pumpkins in the north-east of the US and many families are celebrating with butternut squash (they make a great imitation Scream mask). The size and texture of watermelons lend themselves well to carving and don't forget that over here, the modest and rather unfashionable turnip is the traditional northern jack-o'-lantern of choice.

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