Tasty goings on this Halloween with Yorkshire's local food producers
PUBLISHED: 13:50 28 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:12 20 February 2013
Nothing frightens our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk as she goes hunting for the best Halloween treats around the county Photographs by Andy Bulmer
For York farmer Geoff Sykes Halloween celebrations start as early as May. Its then, he and his team at the Farmers Cart farm shop, near Strensall, begin popping the fat seeds of thousands of pumpkins and gourds into little pots. With a keen eye (and plenty of warm air and water) they watch them grow, and wait until the last frost has passed before planting out the baby cucurbits into a gigantic pumpkin patch.
By October, up to 5,000 sprawling pumpkin and gourd plants, from mottled orange Turbans (think Ali Baba) to dark green, squat Kabocha Squashes, are happily plumping up ready to be harvested. The only thing left to do is for visitors to choose which one theyd like to carve, says Geoff.
Halloween always has held a connection with food. Pagan food rituals associated with the dead go back to Roman times. In Ancient Egypt, its said the dead were buried with honey cakes to eat in the afterlife and Halloween itself was thought to have derived from a pre-Christian festival known as Samhain a feast day that began on November 1st, which involved leaving offerings of food and drink to comfort wandering spirits.
Later, Halloween was sometimes referred to as Snap Apple Night thanks to the game of snap apple when apples were suspended on a long piece of string and contestants had to try and bite them without using their hands.
But surely the most enduring food for Halloween has been the Jack O Lantern. Based around old folklore about Jack, the perennial trickster, its said he not only offended God but also the devil with his many pranks and upon his death was denied entrance into both heaven and hell, though the devil grudgingly tossed him a fiery coal, which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip.
In Yorkshire this Halloween, it will not only be Geoff who is using pumpkins, the king of the cucurbits, to full effect. At Cannon Hall Farm Shop, near Barnsley, owner and farmer David Nicholson always looks forward to Jack O Lantern time.
As well as lots of pumpkin soup and pie in our caf, we also give out free pumpkins to the children who come to look around our open farm. If they draw a ghoulish face onto the pumpkin on the day, well cut it out or them, says David. Last year we gave away more than 4,000.
Similarly, at Keelham Farm Shop, in Thornton, near Bradford, its Ghoulish Tastings provide lots of ideas for Halloween parties. Halloween is huge at Keelham and we really get into the spirit of the thing, says Keelhams Victoria Robertshaw. We give out more than 1,000 pumpkins for customers to carve and we share our own recipes for soups and pies.
At our tastings we provide lots of yummy ideas for using the hollowed out flesh of the pumpkin such as making purees for cheesecake and well also be offering West Yorkshires famous stand pies giant pork pies which are great for parties.
Katie Taylor, owner of Drewtons Farm Shop, near Brough, has coincided her shops first anniversary celebrations with Halloween this year, and, as well as lots of pumpkins, squashes and knobbly veg in the shop, visitors have the chance to meet the producers behind the lovely foods too.
But a Sheffield family has gone one step further with their Halloween pumpkins, bringing unusually nutty-tasting pumpkin oil to our shores.
Virtually unknown over here, the versatile and nutritious cold pressed oil is produced using the Styrian Pumpkin (its seeds are huskless) by small, family-run farms in Austria and Slovenia.
Gary Hutton and his family came across the oil while on holiday. We fell in love with Slovenia, bought a tiny place there in the wine hills, met lots of lovely people, and were introduced to pumpkin oil by our neighbour and friend Joze Adanic, says Gary.
We loved the oil and couldnt believe that no one in the UK had ever heard of it so we got together with Joze, grew many pumpkins, produced the oil and decided to bring some over here. We now bottle the oil here in Yorkshire and its very much a family affair.
A one hectare field will typically produce around 500kg of pumpkin seeds, which are then dried, cleaned, finely milled, roasted and pressed. The resultant oil, which looks dark green in the bottle but when shaken appears a spooky red, can be used in a variety of ways in salad dressings, drizzled on ice-cream, painted on to corn on the cob, used for dipping and as a glaze for meats and its packed full of those all important Omega 3s.
And its really taking off in the UK. We started selling it at local farmers markets but now were supplying independent delis, and even Fortnum and Mason, says Gary. Its a bit scary really. For more on Gary Huttons pumpkin oil, go to pumpkinoil.co.uk.
Aside from the pumpkins (and given Octobers inclement weather), comforting, warming cakes have also become a feature of Halloween. While in the past these cakes might have been offered to the spirits of the dead nourishing them during their long journey to the otherworld, today its more about the eating of them.
At Hinchliffes Farm Shop, in Netherton, people come from miles around to try their Yorkshire parkin, a sticky, moist oatmeal gingerbread, which proved so popular at Halloween its now on the menu all year round.
We have two gentlemen who travel from Skipton because they think we serve the best parkin and we have people buying slabs of it for their Halloween parties, says restaurant manager Louise Bonnar. Lets face it, you simply cant beat a slice of parkin with a cup of Yorkshire tea.
Spooky (and tasty) goings on near you
The Farmers Cart Pumpkin Fest
Saturday October 22nd-Sunday 30th 10am-5pm
Trailer rides to the pumpkin patch, Wicked Witch Hunt, spooky story telling, Pumpkin Sling-Shot, the Corn Cannon and an Eerie-sistable BBQ.
Towthorpe Grange, Towthorpe Moor Lane, York, 01904 499183, thefarmerscart.co.uk
Halloween at Keelham
Saturday October 17th-31st
A Scary Shed, half term Halloween hunt and mask making (October 24th-29th) and Ghoulish Tastings (October 26th-30th).
Keelham Farm Shop, Brighouse and Denholme Road, Thornton, Bradford 01274 833472, keelhamfarmshop.co.uk
Canon Hall Farm Shop
Spooky food in the caf, pumpkin carving and sheep racing.
Cawthorne, Barnsley, South Yorkshire 01226 790427 cannonhallfarm.co.uk
Drewtons Farm Shop
Weekend of October 23rd.
Pumpkins, squash, Halloween cup cakes and chocolates in the shop and deli, a special menu in the restaurant and a colouring and carving competition for children.
The Drewton Estate, South Cave, near Brough, East Yorkshire 01430 425079, drewtons.co.uk