Think of Halloween and you can pretty much guarantee the first thing that pops into your head is a grinning orange pumpkin, but should we rethink this tradition?
Currently, the UK is growing millions of pumpkins that nourish no one, and just end up in landfill. Although pumpkins are edible, last year, according to Hubbub, 14.5 million pumpkins were left uneaten at Halloween. Now, new YouGov research, commissioned by Riverford, has revealed that almost half of Brits (45 per cent) think the land used to grow Halloween pumpkins should be put to better food use.
Meanwhile over a third (37 per cent) have either never cooked with a Halloween pumpkin or don’t know how to cook a meal with a pumpkin.
Pumpkins are known to rot quickly – often before they have even left the field – and modern varieties grown for speed and size can frequently be flavourless due to their high-water content. With a global food crisis looming, can we afford to set so much land aside to grow produce that is largely aesthetic and often, ends up as food waste? What’s the solution?
We may think that a night of spooky fun isn’t the same without carving a pumpkin, but traditions change with time. Using a pumpkin lantern is actually not what folks would have done in the UK at Halloween. During the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, huge sacred bonfires were lit, fortunes told, and the boundary between the world of the living and the dead was blurred.
Over time sacred fires changed to candles lit to ward off wandering souls of the dead that roam between the worlds. Carving a lantern from a turnip was an Irish tradition adapted when immigrants moved to the US to escape the potato famine in the 19th Century. As there were no turnips, they used native pumpkins instead to carve the jack-o’-lanterns we know so well today. But today those pumpkins have short lives and a big environmental footprint.
Farmers and chefs at Riverford instead suggest switching to tastier and more versatile squashes that are grown as food rather than furnishings and are calling for supermarkets to sell more squash than pumpkins in the future.
Squash can also be made into creepy Halloween decorations and – if the skin is not cut into – they have a shelf life of more than six months before needing to be eaten.
Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of Riverford, says: “I have enjoyed growing pumpkins throughout the last 35 years, they’re a lovely crop, but over the years the idea of growing something that’s going to be thrown away becomes a problem; to generate a waste problem without feeding anyone is no longer acceptable. That might have been okay in the past but given the environmental and food affordability crisis we are in; it no longer is today.”
Not familiar with cooking squash? You are missing on a real autumn treat. Sweetly nutty and full-flavoured; a tray of slow roasted squash is a satisfying starting point for hearty soups and stews, winter salads or warming curries.
Here are our top tips for a more sustainable Halloween celebration:
Decorate a spooky squash instead – just as much fun and it will not create any food waste once Halloween festivities are over.
Use washable paints and edible glitter; this means the squash will be safe to eat once Halloween is over – just wash and peel before use.
Use up craft items you have at home; stickers, googly eyes, or cut-out shapes such as spiders and bats from black paper and felt.
Add natural and foraged items; get out in the garden or the forest and collect fallen pinecones, leaves and flowers to decorate with.
Create a decorative squash centrepiece; using different varieties of squash makes for interesting and sophisticated tablescaping.
To store squash, just keep them warm and dry with good airflow – a spot such as a kitchen shelf is great. They should last several months; once cut, keep them in the fridge and use within a week.
For lots of recipe inspiration to enjoy eating your squash, watch Riverford’s Veg Hacks special series on squash.