When I met half of the new ownership of Bangalow’s Satiate it coincided with the extraction from the oven of a cake. Katrina Kanetani, priestess of sweet things, asked me if I would like to accompany coffee with a slice of her Pumpkin and Prune Cake – a question that barely required a response.
And it was wonderful – wonderful in the way that a cake whipped freshly out of the oven always is, wonderful because of the lush moistness the barely detectable pumpkin had endowed.
Pumpkins are, after all, technically a fruit, and their use in sweet dishes more logical than in savoury. In both the Middle East and India that’s where they usually end up. Lately on our Sunday drives along curvy hinterland roads we have been passing displays of pumpkins at little roadside stalls alongside their honesty tins for the few dollars they ask of you. According to Frank and Tania Walker of Walker Farms – whose organic pumpkins spoil you forever, rendering you incapable of ever eating a supermarket one again – these are pumpkins grown through the summer months. The Walkers themselves can grow pumpkins all year around because their Upper Burringbar property rarely experiences the frost to which most of the rest of the region is exposed. Even the excessively wet spells which ruined so many crops this past season left the Walkers relatively unscathed: they are so hilly the rain just runs off the land. While they lost some of their pumpkin crop over summer it was not substantial enough to matter.
The diversity of pumpkins is extraordinary. Consider some of these names – many are heirloom, or rare, or only found in certain parts of the world. Black Forest, Amish Pie, Pink Banana, Aladdin Mini Turban, Sunshine, Jack-be-Quick, Baby Bear, Hooligan, Charisma, Baby Boo, Cotton Candy and Blue Ballet. And that is only a token gesture of all the varieties that abound. I have always loved Butternut for its – well, buttery nuttiness, or nutty butteriness – but also Jap, often called Kent out of political correctness. Tania tells me her favourite is the Ironbark – grown out west and often difficult to come by – because it is hard and dry. In fact the ironbark is an heirloom variety with a reputation for its excellent keeping qualities and its sweet taste.
Of course I have to ask Tania how she likes best to cook pumpkin. Her answer is baked, with the barest touch of oil: pumpkin, then, at its most intense. And before I can say how, when making a classic lasagna, I like to add layers of sliced roast pumpkin to the ragu/bechamel/pasta/cheese ones, here she is telling me about her Pumpkin Lasagna, sans meat: just those other elements but pumpkin the starring role. Then she tells me about a woman she knows who bakes a small pumpkin in its entirety until it is completely cooked through – ‘she cooks and cooks and cooks it’ – until the centre has become caramelised, all those natural sugars – and then she serves it with ice cream.
So there it is again, pumpkin as a sweet, and a method definitely worth trying out sometime. Here is another lovely thing to do with pumpkin, a Jane Grigson recipe for Turkish Candied Pumpkin you can make with your roadside fruit, or a Walker wonder-pumpkin.
TURKISH CANDIED PUMPKIN
Peel and seed 1 kg slice of pumpkin cut into chunks 3 cm long. Bring 250 g sugar and 150 ml water to the boil, stirring, then add the pumpkin and over a very low heat cook at least an hour. Cover pan at first, then remove toward the end so the juices evaporate to a syrup. Chill if desired then serve with toasted walnuts and thick cream.