Squash match

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Ahead of his upcoming appearance in the Demo Kitchen, Luke Mackay explains why he hates Halloween but absolutely adores squash and pumpkins

Halloween is my least favourite ‘holiday’. It’s not a holiday for a start—that we call it one is just the least irritating Americanism that comes with the damnable day. The most irritating is having to get off the sofa every 23 seconds to shower cheap sweets (NOT CANDY) onto lazily be-costumed children and the occasional terrifying (not in a ‘spooky’ way) adolescent.

The food is rubbish too: awash as it is with orange food colouring, ‘hilarious’ Twiglet spider legs and diabetes-inducing amounts of refined sugar. Of all the wacky and wonderful things that have migrated here from our transatlantic cousins, Halloween is the one I would most like to send back from whence it came.

Burnished gold
So, I would hate it if perhaps the iconic autumnal crop was lost in a mist of ghouls, jack-o-lanterns and fake warts. Pumpkins and squash are certainly my favourite vegetables to cook at this time of the year. Scooping steaming strands of spaghetti squash into a rich tomato sauce; nuggets of acorn squash roasting to burnished gold with garlic and sage; silken hokkaido squash soups and purees, cut with creme fraiche and topped with toasted walnuts or crunchy croutons: these are the tastes and textures of autumn that accompany the first crackle of underfoot frost and the musky mulch of the forest floor. It is without a doubt the finest time of the year.

A wander today, under the wrought iron arches and girders of Borough Market will reward the vigilant visitor—squash of seemingly infinite varieties hover tumescent and luminous, the colours straight from a Monet landscape of the Seine in autumn. There are strange metallic blues, too, among the amber hues and speckled greens and yellows. When the low sun finds its way through the beams and strikes a pile of squash, the shadows and dappled light with the natural shimmer of their skin makes them seem almost alive.

Versatility and beauty
And such a joy to cook. This Friday at the Demo Kitchen in the Market Hall, I shall be using four different varieties to create four dishes that I hope will celebrate their versatility, beauty and inherent deliciousness. I’m going to mix it up with a slightly ‘cheffy’ dish of squash puree and goat’s curd with some roast lamb loin and gently pickled onions, then a family friendly rustic tray bake of fat, fennel-flecked Italian sausages, garlic and the aforementioned acorn squash. Crisp, light sage and kabocha squash tempura next, and then a vegetarian show-stopper: a whole roast delicata squash, but hasselbacked and studded with bay leaves and then glazed with chestnut honey and smoked chilli.

Every cook has a favourite season. Some love the verdancy and promise of spring (the morels and the asparagus, the young lamb and the Jersey royals), others the fruits of summer (the salads, the blushing tomatoes and grilled fish). I love them all of course but if I had to pick a season to cook in for ever then I would pick autumn—the first gentle braises puttering in a ceramic pot, wood smoke on the breeze, and squash in the oven, roasting with herbs and garlic, filling the house with savoury steam as unrelated to a spooky skeleton cupcake as it is possible to be.

Join Jenny for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 26th October in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm