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IncrEdibles Food blog

In the summer and autumn of 2013 Kew Gardens celebrated the amazing bounty of the plant world, inviting visitors to experience first-hand a selection of the 12,000 species we humans can feast on. Throughout the festival people from all over Kew contributed to this blog, sharing their behind-the-scenes experiences of creating festival attractions as well as shedding light on the wonderful world of edible plants.

How to carve a halloween pumpkin

By: Max Warren - 31 Oct 2013
Inspired by the pumpkin carving masterclasses currently on at Kew Gardens, Max Warren demonstrates how to make your own Halloween pumpkin lantern at home.
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It's that time of year and pumpkin lanterns have appeared in windows across the country. These “jack-o’-lanterns” (the name derives from the flickering light sometimes seen over peat bogs, also known as called will-o'-the-wisps) originated in Ireland and it was Irish immigrants who brought the tradition to America where it became an integral part of Halloween festivities. Along with so many American traditions, it has become popular on our shores.

Inspired by watching master pumpkin carver Tony Finch at Kew - and by the impressive Pumpkin Pyramid currently in the Waterlily House - I had a go myself. And, I thought, why restrict yourself to just pumpkins? Why not try other gourd-like fruits: here I try my hand at carving a watermelon!

Photo of carvable fruits

Some of the fruits you can use (Photo: Max Warren)

Before we start: Be very careful with the implements you’re using, and please supervise any children.

Starting out

The first thing I'd recommend is cutting an opening in the top of your lantern, and hollowing it out. Rather than turning your lantern onto its side and cutting the top clean off, try cutting into the top at an angle. Doing this will mean that the lid of your lantern will fit, rather than just sit on the top.

Photo of a watermelon lid

Cutting into the lid of a watermelon at an angle (Photo: Max Warren)

Once you've cut out the "lid", you can start hollowing. The traditional pumpkin lantern is relatively easy to hollow out. Normally there'll be about an inch of flesh under the skin, then it's mostly fiber and seeds. Get a large bowl, and use a table spoon to dig out the insides. A watermelon on the other hand is filled with juice. While it's a lot softer, it will take a while to dig it all out, and you'll need a much bigger bowl to put the innards in.

Photo of a watermelon bowl

A bowl full of watermelon pieces cut out of the lantern (Photo: Max Warren)

Carving your design

I’d personally recommend using something very sharp, and very small to carve the actual design onto your lantern. It allows for precision when carving the finer details. I use a scalpel blade, but you can use a bigger knife if you have a steady hand. Before you start carving the design, draw it on. Maybe even using a dry-wipe pen, or white-board pen. If you don't like your design, it can always be wiped off before you start to carve it in.

Photo of pumpkin marking

A marked-up pumpkin being carved (Photo: Kathryn Webster)

Once you have your design, you can start to carve it. Make sure you push your knife all the way through the flesh into the hollowed out area inside. You can start to cut the pieces out, and your lantern will start to take shape (and personality).

Intermediate Techniques

A slightly trickier effect to get a handle on is "layering". By this I mean cutting off the outer skin of your lantern, while leaving the flesh underneath intact. You can use this technique to give the teeth of your lantern a different texture to the rest of its face. The thinner you leave the flesh, the more transparent it will be, so when you put a candle in your finished lantern, the light could shine through the exposed flesh. *Note: this is harder to achieve with a watermelon. The flesh isn't as rigid as that of a gourd, so it's very easy to damage.*

Before you put a candle into your lantern, I'd suggest cutting a small hole into the top of your lantern. This will allow the heat from a flame out of the lantern and prevent the lid from getting scorched.

Photo of a jack-o-lantern family

A small family of Jack-O-Lanterns (Photo: Max Warren)

Once you've completed your lantern(s), add a candle, stand back, and admire. Happy Halloween!

- Max - 


 

Come to Kew to see a master pumpkin carver in action as part of Kew's IncrEdibles festival

Through half term Tony Finch, master vegetable grower, is showing off his traditional pumpkin carving skills for visitors to Kew Gardens. Watch Tony at work and pick up top carving tips.

  • Dates - Until 3 November
  • When - 11am to 3.30pm
  • Where - Outside the Waterlily House. The Waterlily House is north of the Palm House. Download the IncrEdibles Festival map (pdf)
  • Price - FREE with admission to the Gardens

Book tickets button


 

Pumpkin recipes

If this has inspired you to get creative with pumpkins, why not download our delicious pumpkin recipes


 

Read more about pumpkins on Kew's species page 


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National Nut Day

By: Tony Kirkham - 22 Oct 2013
To celebrate National Nut Day the Head of Kew's Arboretum, Tony Kirkham, tells us a little more about what nuts are, where you can find them, and their uses.
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Autumn

Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year in the Arboretum - the weather is turning cold with some moisture in the air and on the ground - the days are growing shorter, but when the sun is out the temperatures can be very warm and comfortable. All this makes for good autumn colour, but the highlight of this season is the fruit on the trees and, in particular, on the nut-bearing trees: the walnuts (Juglans), sweet chestnuts (Castanea), hazel nuts (Corylus), hickories or pecans (Carya) and the almonds (Prunus).

Photo of Juglans nigra fruits

Juglans nigra fruits (Photo: Tony Kirkham) 

The Christmas nut bowl

So what is a nut? The true botanical definition is “a simple dry fruit which is made up of a single seed, rarely two, inside a hard, woody shell that does not split on maturity to release the seed”. The culinary definition is a “dry seed with a high fat content. Many nuts referred to in the kitchen are not botanically true nuts, but any large oily kernels found within a shell are commonly called nuts."

If you stroll round the Arboretum at Kew at this time of year, you'll see many of the nuts we're used to from the nut bowl at Christmas.

One of the commonest nuts found in Europe and the British Isles comes from the common hazel, Corylus avellana, often grown as a coppice under-storey in our woodland and cultivated for the nuts in orchards. The fruits are produced in clusters of three to five and well camouflaged by the short leafy husk which covers about half of the nut.

Possibly the most popular of the Christmas bowl nuts is the English walnut, Juglans regia. The nut is covered in a green, semi-fleshy husk which, if crushed, gives off a dark stain. The squirrels usually beat you to the harvest.

Sweet chestnuts

The sweet chestnut Castanea sativa is one of the oldest trees at Kew at almost 400 years old. It cannot be mistaken at this time of the year because of the unusual spiky sheath that covers the nut.

Photo of Castanea sativa fruit

Castanea sativa fruit (Photo: Tony Kirkham)

The sweet chestnuts are often roasted dry over an open fire and traditionally are sold by vendors in city streets.

Photo of sweet chestnuts

Sweet chestnuts (Photo: Tony Kirkham)

Pecans

My favourite pudding is pecan pie with ice cream and Sally, my wife, cooks an amazing pie from an old traditional US recipe. The pecan nut is the fruit of Carya illinonensis, one of the hickories, native to south-central North America and often grown for its timber value and autumn leaf colour. However, the nuts have a rich buttery flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Photo of pecan nuts

Pecan nuts (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Almonds

The nut that tends to get left till last in the nut bowl is probably the almond. This is usually because it’s the hardest shell to crack. The almond is the fruit of Prunus amygdalus, native to the Middle East and South Asia and the seed is not a true nut, but a seed in the hard shell of a drupe. In the British Isles, the tree is better known for its attractive, delicate white to pink flowers before the leaves appear.

- Tony -


 

Related links


 

Visit the Arboretum at Kew Gardens

Book tickets button


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Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides)

By: Ester Gaya - 16 Oct 2013
Kew's IncrEdibles festival features Tom Hare's giant sculptures of some of the UK's most interesting fungi. Kew mycologist Ester Gaya tells us more about one of them, the amazing Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides).
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A cornucopia

This week I am writing about another delicious mushroom, well known to most mushroom-hunters, the horn of plenty also known as black chanterelle or black trumpet.

Its Latin name, Craterellus cornucopioides, refers to the famous cornucopia from Greek mythology, a horn that could fill itself with all types of foods, drinks, and wealth of any kind. The myth says that Zeus accidentally broke this magical horn, owned by the goddess Amalthea who fed him as a young boy, but that the horn nevertheless kept its magic properties.

Perhaps expecting unending provisions of food from the horn of plenty fungus is a bit optimistic, since they are quite small mushrooms, but I can assure you of a delightful experience! Yet another, altogether more sombre name has been also applied to these mushrooms: the trumpet of the dead (or trompette des morts in French), since it was thought that the deceased, under the ground, could play them as trumpets.

Photo of Craterellus cornucopioides in woodland

Craterellus cornucopioides in woodland (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

Identifying the horn of plenty

The horn of plenty is actually closely related to the chanterelle we praised last week. They both belong to the same family and share some key features: both have a funnel-like shape and both have blunt ridges on their underside instead of gills. The most striking difference between them, however, is the dark colour of the horn of plenty. If you look closely, you will also see that the edge of the cap of the horn of plenty usually rolls outwards, with its inner surface always blackish and smooth or with some marginal striations, while the outer surface (the fertile part) is smooth or slightly wrinkled, also blackish, or most often light grey when dusted with the colour of the spores at maturity.

This time, if you print the spores you will get a salmon-tinged, yellowish, or whitish colour. Their flesh is really thin and brittle. The taste is mild, but the odour is very sweet, like apricots again, but even stronger than the chanterelle. Some people say that they smell of sweaty socks. I quite disagree…

Photo of Craterellus cornucopioides on woodland floor (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

Craterellus cornucopioides on woodland floor (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

You will have to be eagle-eyed. Not being orange, the horn of plenty doesn´t stand out like a chanterelle. Due to their colour and small size they can be easily overlooked, but if you manage to find one or two there will usually be more, since they tend to be gregarious. Look for them amongst the leaf litter of hardwoods and conifers from June to November, and even in December in mild autumns in southern Britain (and we are having a very mild autumn so far this year!). Outside the UK you will find it in the rest of Europe, America, and Japan.

Cooking horn of plenty

The horn of plenty can look a bit intimidating at first sight. You could easily believe that it is not an edible fungus due its sombre dark colour. But its flavour is delicious when fresh and even better when dry. Some people go so far as to equate it to black truffles!

It can be added to your sauces, or sautéed in olive oil and butter or in stir-fry. It adds good flavour to eggs. But I prepare the horn of plenty with pasta as follows:

  • Finely chop and stir-fry your trumpets in olive oil.
  • Add a can of liquid cream, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Once cooked blend the mixture and add it to your spaghetti!

Don’t confuse it with...

Craterellus cornucopioides is not easily confused with poisonous species. It is very similar to, but darker than, the grey trumpet (Cantharellus cinereus), which is also an edible mushroom.

And of course, if you want to see Tom Hare's super-large sculptures of Horn of plenty and other fungi, then come and visit Kew! 

Photo of Tom Hare's Horn of Plenty sculpture in Kew Gardens

Tom Hare's sculpture of the horn of plenty fungus (Photo: Robert Lachlan)

- Ester -

NB Please do not pick fungi - leave them to disperse their spores and be appreciated by others. Never pick and eat fungi from the wild unless you are absolutely certain of their identity.
 


 

See Tom Hare's horn of plenty sculpture at Kew's IncrEdibles festival until Sunday 3 November 2013

FREE entry for children aged 16 and under.


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IncrEdible soup vegetables

By: Sarah Cody - 11 Oct 2013
Autumn brings with it a feast of colours and flavours which warm the belly and lift the spirits, easing us into the winter months. Inspired by the Global Kitchen Garden at Kew, Sarah Cody takes us on a tour of some of this season's vegetable delights.
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Something tells me that those hazy days of warmth and glorious summer sunshine have left our British shores until next year. While I might shed a tear for the close of summer, autumn has its own box of treats to delight us with: refreshing winds and rustling leaves aflame in amber and burnt orange; moist earth squelching beneath your wellies. Autumn is in the air (stick a hat on) and let’s embrace it! The change in season also signals a change in diet for most of us. We think about ditching the salads in favour of heart-warming soups and stews loaded with nourishing, energy-rich vegetables that will keep us going through the winter months.

Photo of Autumn at Wakehurst

A perfect autumn day at Kew's sister site, Wakehurst Place in Sussex, home of the Millennium Seed Bank (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

The Global Kitchen Garden at the IncrEdibles Festival enchanted us through the summer with a bounty of tomatoes, grapes and pomegranates. This season it offers us a visual spectacle of some of the nation’s favourite autumn vegetables, some of which you will find growing in your own back garden. I have picked just a few of these delectable vegetables to inspire you to get your apron on and get soup-making.

Memory boosting onions

Fundamental to any good soup, the merits of the onion (Allium cepa) go beyond colour, flavour and texture. Onions have a role to play in our health as they contain high levels of vitamin C, folic acid and fibre as well as free-radical fighting antioxidants, such as quercetin. For centuries, onions have been used as a home remedy for the common cold and more recent research indicates that they are effective in combating hayfever and heart disease, and they even boost memory.

Photo of an onion at the Global Kitchen Garden

Photo of an onion growing at the Global Kitchen Garden

Onions growing at the Global Kitchen Garden (Photo: Sarah Cody)

Love onions, but don’t want the tears? Well, there are hundreds of methods out there to avoid onion tears (your grandmother should know a few) and, if the old “chomping on bread* while you slice” (*substitute bread with: lemon; the tip of a match; chewing gum; sugar cubes etc.) trick doesn’t keep the tears away, then try refrigerating the onion 30 minutes prior to slicing and avoid cutting the root end of the vegetable. Wearing contact lenses while you chop is also very effective!

Parading Pumpkins

No blog post on autumn vegetables would be complete without the iconic pumpkin. Cucurbita pepo belongs in the family Cucurbitaceae which also includes cucumber, squash, and melon. If you grow any of these vegetables you will notice that they all have tendrils that sit at right angles to the stem and their leaves have three or more veins joined at the base – defining characteristics of the Cucurbitaceae.

Pumpkin owes its bright orange colour to the nutrients lutein and alpha and beta carotene, the latter of which generates vitamin A in the body and helps you to see in the dark. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, pumpkin is valued for its cooling and astringent properties and is consumed as a cure for fatigue and used to purify the blood. The seeds have a delicious nutty flavour and are rich in zinc; important for keeping your immune system healthy and strong.

Photo of pumpkins at the Global Kitchen Garden

 

Pumpkins glowing in the late afternoon sun at the Global Kitchen Garden (Photo: Sarah Cody) 

With Halloween around the corner, you may want to get some inspiration from Kew’s Pumpkin Pyramid at the Waterlily house. A tremendous 4 metre high installation of 75 different varieties of pumpkin with names reminiscent of my childhood: Cinderella, Munchkin and Peter Pan. This amazing diversity is a testament to the role that selective breeding has played in the kinds of food available to us today. As well as variation in size, colour and taste, genetic diversity underpins a crop’s yield, its resistance to pests and diseases, its tolerance of environmental stresses and even lifecycle events, such as flowering time.

Photo of pumpkins in the Waterlily House 2013

The Pumpkin Pyramid in the Waterlily house at Kew (Photo: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew) 

Potato Pandemonium

Where would we be without potatoes? Boiled, sautéd, fried, mashed, roasted – it doesn’t matter how you prepare them, potatoes are heavenly. Being an integral part of the European diet, it is easy to take potatoes for granted. However, the Irish potato famine of the 1840s teaches us that unless we maintain a certain degree of genetic variability in our potato crop, potatoes are in desperate trouble. At that time Ireland was dependent on only a few varieties of potato, none of which contained resistance to Late Blight, a disease caused by a fungus which leaves potatoes rotten and completely inedible. In 1845 when Late Blight struck, a million people starved to death and millions more emigrated to unaffected areas. The social and economic consequences of a famine are devastating and the poor are always the first to be affected.

Genetic diversity is the key to resilience against such threats and the best source of genetic variation can be found in the wild relatives of crop species. The Sárpo varieties developed in the 1950s by Dr Istavaán are the most blight-resistant potatoes available today. Their resistance can be traced back to genes found in the crop wild relative, Solanum demissum, collected in the ancestral home of the crop, Central and South America. In a project called Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change, the Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are collecting, protecting and preparing the wild relatives of 29 of the world’s most important food crops, including potato, so that the genetic diversity they hold can be used to breed new varieties that are better equipped to deal with diseases such as Late Blight and which are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Photo of diverse potatoes

Potato diversity (Photo: Bioversity International)

Colourful Carrots

Like many other plants, carrots (Daucus carota) store energy in their roots so that they can survive the winter and have the energy they need to sprout in the spring. These root vegetables are especially nourishing for humans because they are filled with starch which the body breaks down into simple sugars when eaten, supplying us with energy. If unused, this energy becomes stored in our bodies as fat, keeping us warm in the winter. Parsnips, turnips, beetroot, potatoes, yam and sweet potato are examples of plants that adopt the same strategy and it is no wonder these vegetables are so popular when the weather turns colder.

Carrot was first domesticated in the area around Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and originally had dark purple roots due to high levels of anthocyanin. It was only in the 17th century that the Dutch developed varieties with higher concentrations of the orange pigment (beta-carotene) to give us the orange cultivar all of us are familiar with. Today hundreds of varieties exist in many different shapes, sizes and colours.

Photo of carrot varieties arranged in a cirlce

The many shapes, sizes and colours of carrot (Photo: Wikipedia commons) 

To purée, or not to purée, that is the question

I hope you've enjoyed this whistle-stop tour. Fortunately, nature doesn't stop at four vegetables; there are many more out there to get excited about and I am hard pressed to think of any that don't work in a soup. My personal cooking style is: chop it up; stick it in a pot; throw in loads of herbs and salt, and simmer away. For those with a more discriminating palate or who prefer to work with tried and tested recipes, this little gem of a cookbook may be the answer for you. The Global Kitchen Cookbook will take your taste-buds on a journey through the world of edible plants with 101 mouth watering recipes accompanied by beautiful botanical illustrations. A feast for the eyes and the belly!

Cover of the Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook

Cover of Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook (Photo: RBG Kew)

- Sarah -


 

Related Links 


 

Come and see autumn vegetables at the IncrEdibles festival

The Pumpkin Pyramid is in Kew's Waterlily House. It rises 4 metres up out of the central pond. 75 different types of pumpkin, including the fairytale-titled Cinderella, Munchkin and Peter Pan varieties, were used in the installation.

Book tickets button


 

Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook

Kew’s Global Kitchen Cookbook is available to buy from Kew’s online shop or in the Gardens for the exclusive price of £10 (RRP £14.95)


Buy now button


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The Pumpkin Pyramid

By: Max Warren - 07 Oct 2013
Kew’s Pumpkin Pyramid is a longstanding tradition. This year, with our IncrEdibles festival it is more relevant than ever! Kew pumpkin expert Max Warren discovers what makes this one so special.
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Among the most spectacular of all autumn fruits are the pumpkins, gourds and squashes. The plants that produce them are all members of the Cucurbitaceae – the cucurbit family – which also includes cucumbers, melons, marrows and loofahs. In total, the family consists of 100 genera and almost 700 species.

This year’s pyramid and the surrounding displays include around 5,000 pumpkins and have been over a month in the making. The Pyramid is in the Waterlily House which is traditionally closed at this time of year. Many of the waterlilies have been relocated to the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

 Photo of the Pumpkin Pyramid 2013

The Pumpkin Pyramid (Photo: Andrew McRobb)

The Four Corners of the World

In each corner of the Waterlily House there’s a pumpkin display portraying ingredients and recipes from around the world (each corner representing one of the four corners of the globe). there are signs describing the species found in that part of the world along with mouth-watering recipes, from Pumpkin Tempura to Pumpkin Pie.

Photo of the Pumpkin potjie display

The Pumpkin potjie display and recipe (Photo: Andrew McRobb)

Growing your own

Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow at home. Seeds from most pumpkins and squashes are usually viable for 4-5 years. The seeds should be sown between mid April and mid May in warm (16-24°C) humid conditions. For the best plants, sow a single seed in small pot of peat-free multipurpose compost. Most seed will germinate within a few days. Once the last frost is past at the end of May or June, the ground should be warm enough to plant out the young potted plants. Any good soil with plenty of garden compost added should provide ideal conditions for a good crop.

Space the plants about 1 metre apart. Until the plants spread out and cover the ground, keep the rows weed free with regular cultivation. Pinch out growth tips once the desired number of fruits has formed to restrict the size of the plant.

Water regularly, particularly in dry conditions. This is essential if large fruit is required. Reducing the number of fruit to one or two per plant will also ensure larger fruit.

Many pumpkins and squash take a minimum of 95 to 100 days to mature though some need between 120 to 130 days. In late September, remove excess foliage to give the fruit a better chance of ripening in the autumnal sun.

Cinderella 

the Pyramid is crowned by one of the most popular species of pumpkin, the Cinderella or Cucurbita pepo. Cucurbita pepo has been cultivated for its edible fruits for thousands of years and remains a crop plant of great economic importance today. An extensive range of cultivars is available, including those grown to produce fruits for Halloween lanterns and pumpkin pies, courgettes (zucchinis), marrows, many types of squashes and ornamental gourds. It's certainly earned its pride of place at the top of the Pyramid! (Read more about Cucurbita pepo.)

Photo of the Cinderella pumpkin

"Cinderella" the pumpkin (Photo: Andrew McRobb)

Adding Cinderella to the Pyramid was the finishing touch. Here we see it being put in place by Wes Shaw, the now ex-manager of the Palm House. It was one of the last projects Wes took part in here at Kew. 

wes finishing pyramid

Wes Shaw completing the Pumpkin Pyramid (Photo: Andrew McRobb)

As this was his last project before leaving the Gardens for pastures new, Wes commented: "This is a lovely piece of work with which to end my time working at Kew.” Goodbye Wes, and good luck!

- Max -


 

Visit the Pumpkin Pyramid

The Pumpkin Pyramid is in Kew's Waterlily House. It rises 4 metres up out of the central pond. 75 different types of pumpkin, including the fairytale-titled Cinderella, Munchkin and Peter Pan varieties, were used in the installation.

Book tickets button


 

Pumpkin recipes

If this has inspired you to get creative with pumpkins, why not download our delicious pumpkin recipes

 


1 comment on 'The Pumpkin Pyramid'


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Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.

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