ArchiveOctober 30, 2022


We’re all set for Halloween, squash, pumpkins and gourds of every size, shape and colour are piled precariously on the table in the hall of the cookery school, on the window ledges, in baskets and boxes, they look so decorative.  It’s become a bit of a tradition, our grandchildren and children from the local schools to come to the farm to harvest the squash and pumpkin every Autumn. They have the best fun and are intrigued by the names, Hubbard, Turks Turban, Little Gem, Delicata, Hokkaido, Crown Prince, Kobocha,  Cocozelle, Jack be Little, Red Kuri… Some are the size of a child’s fist, others so enormous that it takes two sturdy lads to carry them.

On my recent trip to New York, there were pumpkins everywhere and in everything – pies, muffins, lattes, smoothies, bread, soups, cake, baked, roasted, frittatas, stews, curries, pasta, bread, pancakes, salads, pickles, even popsicles and ice cream…both sweet and savoury dishes – pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

Everyone loves carving pumpkins into scary faces for Halloween, the festival that apparently originated in Ireland over three thousand years ago when the pagan festival of Samhain  marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the new year, the natural transition from lighter Summer to the darker Winter. At this time of the year it was believed that the division between this world and the other world was at its most fragile, allowing spirits to pass though. So as in the Mexican tradition of the ‘Day of the Dead ‘the spirits of the ancestors were invited back home and evil spirits were warded off. Bonfires, traditional food, costumes and masks were all part of the festivities.

After the famine, the Irish carried their Halloween traditions to America where it is now one of the major holidays of the year. Similarly, here in Ireland where it is fast becoming as big as Christmas.  For several weeks now children have been whipped into a lather of excitement by all the Halloween temptations on TV and in the shops and the anticipation of dressing up as ghouls and witches to do the rounds of their neighbourhood for the annual ‘trick or treat’.

You may be amused to hear that we were inadvertently removed from the ‘must visit’ list a number of years ago when word spread among the ‘trick or treaters’ that Ballymaloe Cookery School was ‘no good’ because you only got fruit and nuts…

The fact that they were home-grown apples and fresh hazelnuts, cobnuts and walnuts from the nut garden did not remotely impress the scary little dotes who were hoping for proper sugar laden treats. So I think we’ve been black-listed!!

Apparently, Barmbrack is back…! I never realized that it wasn’t cool …  It’s always been a treasured part of Halloween for me, super easy to make and the best fun to make with the kids … adding in the ring and charms…

Here too are a few pumpkin recipes for you to have fun making with your children and their friends.  There are masses more ideas online.

Ballymaloe Halloween Barmbrack

Everyone in Ireland loves a barmbrack, perhaps because it brings back lots of memories of excitement and games at Halloween. When the barmbrack was cut, everyone waited in anticipation to see what they’d find in their slice: a stick, a pea, a ring, a piece of cloth and what it meant for their future.

This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack.  Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.

Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)

110g (4oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) currants

50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered

300ml (10fl oz) hot tea

1 organic egg, whisked

175g (6oz) soft brown sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3 inch)

Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.

Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Keeps very well in an airtight tin.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkins vary in intensity of flavour, some are much stronger than others so you may need to add some extra stock or milk. I sometimes add a can of coconut milk with delicious results.

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

175g (6oz) onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

25g (1oz) butter

1 sprig of thyme

450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1.2 litres (2 pints) homemade chicken stock

salt, freshly ground pepper

pinch of nutmeg


35g (1 1/2oz) butter

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon white mustard seeds

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

Put the pumpkin or squash into a pan with the onion, garlic, butter and thyme. Cover and sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the chopped tomatoes, (add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon sugar if using tinned tomatoes) and tomato purée and cook until dissolved into a thick sauce. Stir in the stock, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and simmer until the squash is very tender. Discard the thyme stalk, then liquidise the soup in several batches and return to the pan. You may need to add a little more stock or water if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Just before serving, gently reheat the soup and pour into a warm serving bowl. Heat the coriander, cumin and peppercorns, and crush coarsely. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and, when foaming, add the crushed spices, mustard seeds and cinnamon. Stir for a few seconds until the mustard seeds start to pop. Remove the cinnamon and quickly pour over the soup.  Serve, mixing the spiced butter as you ladle it out.

Black-eyed Bean, Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew

One of the very best vegetarian one-pot dishes. What’s not to like about black-eyed beans, chickpeas and pumpkin with lots of spices? Delicious on its own, but equally good with a roast chicken or a few lamb chops. Eat with flatbreads or pilaff rice, if you prefer.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick

150g (5oz) onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

225g (8oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced approx. 3mm (1/8 inch) thick

450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

400g (14oz) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

a pinch of sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

450g (1lb) cooked black-eyed beans, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

225g (8oz) cooked chickpeas, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped coriander

For the Mint Yoghurt

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5–6 seconds, then add the onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edges.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms wilt, then add the pumpkin or squash, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, a pinch of sugar and the cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and tip in the drained beans and chickpeas. Add the salt and pepper, together with 2 tablespoons of coriander. Pour in 150ml (5fl oz) of bean cooking liquid and 150ml (5fl oz) of the chickpea liquid (or 300ml (10fl oz) vegetable stock if you’ve used tinned pulses). Return to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10–15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans and chickpeas are tender.

To make the mint yogurt, combine the yogurt with the chopped mint in a bowl.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan before serving and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the mint yogurt. Accompany with a good green salad and rice, if you wish.

Salad of Roast Pumpkin with Pumpkin Seeds and Preserved Lemon

Serves 8-10

250g (9oz) dried cannellini beans

1 pumpkin (approximately 1.5kg/3lb 5oz)

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds, toasted

1 preserved lemon

rocket leaves


125ml (4 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

coriander leaves

Day Before

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.

Next Day

Drain and discard the water, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 30-50 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and deseed the pumpkin. Cut into 3-4cm (1 1/4 – 1 1/2 inch) pieces. Transfer to a roasting tin. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven at 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7 for 20-25 minutes until tender. Allow to cool.

Toast the pumpkin seeds for 10-15 minutes in a moderate oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Remove the flesh from the inside of the preserved lemon and discard. Cut the rind into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice.

Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing. Put the rocket leaves, beans and roast pumpkin into a wide, shallow serving dish. Scatter with preserved lemon. Drizzle with dressing, toss gently. Sprinkle with coriander leaves.  Scatter with pumpkin seeds.

Taste and correct seasoning. Divide between eight shallow bowls. Eat with lots of fresh pitta or crusty ciabatta.

Pumpkin Spice Cake 

Inspired by a recipe by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey and Co in the Weekend FT a few weeks ago.

190g  (scant 7oz) soft dark brown sugar

190g (scant 7oz) spelt flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon each of turmeric, ground allspice, ground cardamom

50g (2oz) hazelnuts, skinned and roughly chopped

50g (2oz) rolled oats

100g (3 1/2oz) block dates, pitted and roughly chopped

50g (2oz) crystallised ginger, chopped

 250g (9oz) peeled pumpkin

2 large eggs

200g (7oz) melted butter of ghee (cooled)


25g (1oz) hazelnuts, skinned and roughly chopped

10g (scant 1/2oz) rolled oats

15g (generous 1/2oz) Demerara sugar

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8 inch) or makes 10-12 muffins

Preheat the oven to 170˚C (fan)/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Mix the topping ingredients together.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Grate the pumpkin using a coarse grater, then add that and the rest of the cake ingredients to the bowl.  Mix well to combine, then transfer to a lined loaf tin.  Make sure to leave some room for the cake to grow about 2 – 3cm (3/4 – 1 1/4 inch) below the top.  Score with a butter knife down the middle of the cake. 

Sprinkle the topping all over the top of the cake, then pop into the oven to bake for approx. 1 1/4 hours, until springy to the touch (cover with parchment paper if the top is browning too quickly).

Allow to cool in the tin before removing…serve thickly sliced slathered with butter…


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