by Ed Halmagyi


I had my Chicken Little moment the other day.

My prized vegetable garden had become quite unloved over the long Summer interval, and it was in need of a thorough clean out. So the annuals were removed, the perennials pruned, and I applied a thick layer of mulch for water retention.

And then it happened, right when I was trimming the camellia. The sky fell in.

It tumbled right down onto my head with an almighty thud, almost knocking me senseless. I peered towards the clouds, but couldn’t spot a missing piece. So I turned my gaze to the ground, and there it was. A pumpkin.

I’m unaccustomed to having stray pumpkins crash down around me, but on closer inspection I deduced that this gourd grenade had been perched in the boughs of the tree for some time, growing happily in full sun. Pumpkin vines, it appears, have a tendency to climb.

Subsequent research supports that initial conclusion. As part of the Curcurbita genus – think zucchini, cucumbers and gourds – pumpkins are the close relative of squash. So close, in fact, that the names are used interchangeably throughout the world. And while there are many varieties of pumpkins (Butternut, Kent, Queensland Blue and Jap are popular in Australia), they all have several qualities in common. They’re hard-shelled, dense, heavy, and they like to climb. This make them easy to grow and a breeze to store, but it can also make them significantly more lethal.

For the gardener, pumpkins are a rewarding plant yielding many fruits. But great care must be taken with site selection as the vine is fast-growing and highly invasive. Single pumpkin plants can easily take over the entire garden.

Once picked, pumpkins can be cold-stored for up to several years, provided that the hard shell has not been compromised. In fact, all pumpkins should be allowed to mature for at least a couple of days after harvesting, as further sugar conversion takes place, yielding a sweeter dish.

Speaking of cooking, I did have my revenge on the insurgent vegetable. I roasted it to perfection filled with butter and brown sugar until the flesh was meltingly soft. Simple, yet very more-ish.

But one of the best things about pumpkin is the variety of ways in which it can be prepared: roasted, steamed, sautéed, grilled or mashed. There’s a meal available no matter what you have in mind. Maybe served up with a little chicken, Chicken Little?
Snapper and coriander sausages with barbecued pumpkin