Food: Squash your appetite

Until now we have tended to scoop them out and stick candles in them at Hallowe'en or simply decorate our kitchen shelves with them, but the autumn harvest of squashes and pumpkins is finally making it on to the nation's dinner tables.

"It has taken a while," says self-confessed squash fanatic Janet Macdonald, "but people are starting to realise that not only do squashes look gorgeous, they taste gorgeous too."

"Admire them by all means," says Janet who currently has a huge pile of different varieties of squash decorating her dining room, "but then eat them. They are full of vitamin A so they are very good for you, and they are incredibly versatile."

Janet, who is just putting the finishing touches to a cookery book about squashes even has recipes for squash pancakes and squash quiche.

"I have a simple rule. If you can do it with a potato you can do it with a squash. For sweet recipes if you can do it with an apple you can do it with a squash."

When Janet first got a taste for squash on a trip to Canada over 15 years ago the only way she could get a regular supply in this country was to grow her own. Now most supermarkets sell about four or five different varieties.

One of the advantages of the winter squashes available at the moment is that as they have tough skins they can last for months. One disadvantage is that they can be pretty difficult to break into. Janet has her own solution: "Just put the squash in a plastic bag and drop it on the floor and it will split open". She doesn't recommend this method if your recipe requires nice neat slices.

How do you cook it?

Squashes can be microwaved, stir-fried, fried, steamed, roasted or even barbecued. Most supermarkets now stick labels with cooking suggestions on their varieties.

75-year-old Ralph Upton and his wife Barbara grow and sell the most amazing selection of squashes and pumpkins in the village of Slindon in Sussex. For a booklet of their recipes send pounds 1.50 (including p&p) to C R Upton, 4 Top Road, Slindon, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 0RP.

Janet Macdonald's book Pumpkins and Squashes (Grubb Street, pounds 17.99) will be available in the new year.

Three things you may not know about pumpkins

Pumpkins, the most famous kind of winter squash, can grow as much as 12oz (340g) in one day.

The world's largest pumpkin weighed in at 836lb (379.2kg).

Size isn't everything. Generally the larger the pumpkin the less flavour the flesh will have.

Nikki Spencer

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