The Christmas jumper is out, the Christmas cake has been baked and is being periodically laced with brandy, I’ve already eaten two mince pies and three of those fruit kebabs from the Christmas Markets, and I’ve started my Christmas shopping. This can only mean one thing: Autumn is drawing to a close.
As much as I cannot wait for Christmas, (not least because I get 3 weeks off from everything) I’m sad to see Autumn go. This year was my first proper Autumn in 2 years, (most countries in Asia don’t have the luxury of proper seasons), and although I had to endure the rain, the wind, the dark nights, and the freezing cold, it was worth it to see the leaves change colour. I loved eating treacle toffee and parkin, carving pumpkins, waving sparklers about, and craning my neck to watch fireworks fly over the roof.
More Halloween cakes.
One of my favourite things about Autumn is Halloween: dressing up, apple bobbing, baking themed cakes, buying sweets for trick-or-treaters and eating them all myself, making green jelly topped with gummy worms, decorating the house with fake cobwebs – I love it all, but probably my favourite thing about Halloween is pumpkins. Pumpkins are probably the only properly seasonal vegetable left in the UK – by that I mean they’re the only vegetable I can think of that you can only buy when it is in season. It makes cooking with pumpkin that bit more special. When I lived in Italy and Cambodia I’d look forward to new fruit and veg appearing at the market when it was in season, but that just doesn’t happen here – except with pumpkin.
I’ve been carving pumpkins since I can remember, and I’m ashamed to admit that for years and years I’d scrape the pumpkin out and throw all of the insides away. Only when I lived in Asia did I discover (with the help of both my Cambodian friends and my American friends) that the inside has far more to offer than the outside, and I vowed never to throw away pumpkin again. It’s the most versatile vegetable I can think of – from savory curries and soups to sweet cakes and pies, pumpkin can be eaten in so many ways.
If you’ve never cooked with pumpkin before, then please, I implore you to try. A really good recipe to start off with is pumpkin soup: it’s so easy, but so, so delicious.
Half a pumpkin
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
2 red chilies
1 small piece of ginger
Salt & Pepper
1. Peel and chop the vegetables and finely chop the ginger, garlic and chilies and place in a baking tray
2. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. The garlic and chilie might need a little oil but the pumpkin should soften without any
3. When soft blend the vegetables together in a blender
4. Put mixture in a pan on a low heat, and add water slowly until soup reaches desired consistency
5. Season with black pepper and salt
Halloween is probably my favourite thing about Autumn, but Bonfire Night comes a close second. The fireworks and bonfires and sparklers. The hats and scarves and wellies. The baked potatoes, sausages, and black peas. And of course the parkin, the toffee apples, and the treacle toffee.
Last year in Cambodia I really wanted to make treacle toffee for our Bonfire party (yes, we really did have Bonfire Night in Cambodia), but we couldn’t find any treacle anywhere, and as the name would suggest, you can’t really make treacle toffee without treacle. However, I managed to make up for it this year, by not only buying a couple of bags of ready-made toffee, but also making a massive batch myself. It really is very easy to make – if you’d like to have a go the recipe is below.
Treacle Toffee (Bonfire Toffee)
1lb brown sugar
¼ pint water
4ozs black treacle
4ozs golden syrup
1 tsp white wine vinegar
3ozs unsalted butter
1. Grease a tin with a little unsalted butter, making sure that the corners are well greased.
2. Place all the ingredients into a large saucepan, and heat over a medium flame until the butter has melted.
3. Bring to a rolling boil as quickly as possible.
4. Boil, covered for two minutes.
5. Fill a jug with cold water and have next to you as you finish the toffee. Stirring regularly, maintain a fast boil to reduce the toffee. As it gets thicker, regularly – at minute intervals say – test dribbles of the mixture in your cold water – when it is ready, a dribble will harden and solidify instantly into a hard piece of toffee.
6. Remove the pan instantly from the heat, and place the bottom in a large bowl of water to arrest the cooking.
7. Pour the toffee into your prepared tin and cool.
8. Break into pieces before serving, and keep in an airtight tin.
Now that Halloween and Bonfire Night are over, the nights become darker, the mornings become frostier, the onslaught of Christmas songs in the shops becomes ever more relentless, and so Autumn gives way to Winter.
The time may have come to say goodbye to toffee apples, pumpkins, and parkin, but all is not lost, because as Winter draws in, with the dark mornings, the grit-salt and the deicer, along come the Christmas puddings, the mulled wine, and the mince pies…