In vegetable growing circles, Morton, Illinois, is the undisputed pumpkin growing capital of the world.
Yet this weekend, in the heart of the British countryside, monster specimens of this fascinating fruit, will be on display at the Malvern Autumn Show (28th & 29th September).
Amateur growers across the country have been busily growing prize pumpkins for the last few months and ten of the best will be among the bumper crop of 270 giant vegetables, ranging from parsnips, onions and marrows, to leeks, carrots and runner beans – all of them entered into the prestigious UK National Giant Vegetables Championship.
The competition makes its debut at the Three Counties Showground in Worcestershire this year, following its move from Somerset’s Royal Bath & West Showground, where it has been staged since 1997.
Pumpkins were completely unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus, although they have been grown in America for over 5,000 years! Like gourds and other varieties of squash, they belong to the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes cucumbers and gherkins, and in the peak growing season, a giant pumpkin can gain 50lbs in weight per day.
It’s easy to grow pumpkins in a home vegetable plot, though they do have a tendency to spread out a bit, so they need a bit of space to grow into. We’ve been growing them down on the plot for years now. There’s nothing more rewarding that sowing a few seeds in spring that lead to a crop of tasty winter squashes in late Autumn – this year we’re giving Waltham Butternut and Sweet Dumpling squashes a try and they’ve been coming on very nicely.
The show sounds like a great way to get a bit of inspiration for next year’s vegetable plot – there will be a Good Life Pavilion with edible gardens and Britain’s favourite baker, Mary Berry is a headline guest on Saturday.
Whenever we travel to a new place, we’re always keen to try out a few local food treats if we can, so on a recent trip to New York we decided to hook up with a local company running Food on Foot tours to get a little off the beaten track.
Food on Foot run a whole range of different food tours and ours took in the East Village with a three hour walk that gave us a flavour of neighbourhood food away from the tourist hotspots. Meeting under the entrance for Grand Central Terminal (it’s not a station – we’d done that tour the day before!) our group of about 30 from nations around the world slowly came together and we set off on for the subway in pursuit of tour leader Corey. He reckons he’s the only foodie tour leader brave enough to take a large group on the subway – thankfully we didn’t let him down and the whole group made it to the right stop without mishap.
Corey’s strap-line is that he’s a ‘real New Yorker taking you out for real New York food.’ His tours aren’t about gourmet tastings, but about getting to the heart of real New York street food.
Clearly, we’re not going to reveal his route and stops as that would spoil the tour- part of the fun is in not knowing where you’ll go and what you’ll try. We did six stops though, sampling both savoury and sweet treats at small local establishments that we’d never have otherwise found, let alone tried. At each stop, Corey told us about the food they specialised in and why he’d included it, then gave a recommendation for what to try. In between, he sprinkled in a few interesting facts and snippets about New York’s history and culture; giving us little insights that weren’t in the guide books. It was turning into a great little tour.
New York is famous for its New York style pizza, which apparently originated back in the early 1900’s, but Corey reckons that really good New York style pizza is now getting hard to find, so he wanted to make sure we tasted some on this trip. We’re not big pizza lovers – we eat it occasionally, but can definitely live without it – so we admit to being a little bit tepid about this stop. We have to say though that the slice we went for was fabulous – most definitely the best pizza we have ever tasted.
At the final sweet stop, we plumped for a ‘New York Italian’ ice cream which was the perfect end to the tour and a thoroughly enjoyable three hours. It was a good six hours before we could eat anything else!
While there’s always a certain thrill involved in finding a wonderful new restaurant, there are also other fantastic ways to enjoy great food during the summer season. During the summer, with the weather warming up and the sun staying up longer, many people like to attend outdoor events which allow us to enjoy a picnic or barbecue.
Of course, sometimes these events are already established, and you are able to just go and enjoy the food, drink and company. However, sometimes, it’s nice to put your own al fresco fare together too. It’s easy enough to pop into Marks and Spencer for a few nice bottles of summer wine and a few fresh ingredients to organize your own picnic or barbecue – so we’ve collected a few recipe ideas for you to consider.
Here are 5 particularly fitting ideas for outdoor cooking, summer weather, and good company.
1. Portobello Burgers
If you’re going to be hosting an outdoor dinner event and cooking with a barbecue grill, you’ll have plenty of options. But for a nice summery twist a portobello burger is a great option. Hearty meals are always appreciated, but lighter options can go down a treat in warmer weather and a portobello mushroom with a little chopped garlic and a drizzle of olive oil makes a great tasty burger and is easy to manage for a large group.
2. Grilled Tacos
Tacos are some of the easiest food options for large groups, and are absolutely perfect for outdoor summer dining. Simply barbecue your choice of meat or fish and provide enough interesting toppings to allow your guests to make up their own tacos. In particular a few light citrus sauces and toppings such as shredded lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes are likely to be popular.
Another incredibly simple but delicious option for summer dining is a grilled kebab. One of the great things about serving up kebabs is that they work beautifully for both vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Serve up skewers with peppers, mushrooms, courgettes and tomatoes, and/or chunks of meat on them, and you’ll have plenty of easy, delicious food to please your guests. Have a few few sauce options and some warm pitta on hand and the meal is sorted!
4. Lettuce Wraps
If you want to serve up food and leave assembly entirely to your guests, lettuce wraps can be perfect. An array of cooked meats, tofu, chopped vegetables, spices and sauces – and in some cases, even nuts – will provide just about any toppings your guests could want. Lettuce wraps are a bit of work, which many people appreciate during communal, outdoor dining experiences, as it can be great fun and heightens the social atmosphere.
5. Salads With Fruit
Finally, for the simplest option of all, offer up a well-conceived salad with fresh summer fruit and vegetables. There’s scope to make it as exciting as you like by adding a good range of ingredients from meat or fish, to cooked grains such as tabbouleh or quinoa or even a few fresh berries or some chopped citrus to give the salad a unique and summery feel.