Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Halloween, the eve of All Hallows Day, has come and gone. Long ago, my family spent a year in California, where the kids made lanterns with ghoulish faces and scary costumes for the evening house-to-house visitations.

Here in Phuket, there has been no “trick-or-treating”, no Jack-o’-lanterns, no pumpkin pie, no monster pumpkins. Incidentally, the world record weight for a pumpkin – held by Swiss Beni Meier – is an astounding 1,054.01 kilograms.

Nonetheless, pumpkins are a fact of life here. They thrive everywhere in Thailand’s climate. Often cut into sections with their bright orange flesh offering a vivid contrast to the dull, warty, wrinkled shell, they offer a presence in every food store and fresh market.

The fruit features in pumpkin soup, is cooked with prawns in Vietnam, can be fried with eggs and is an enriching addition to mashed potato, salad or nam prik.

Good for you ? You bet… But then, name me an edible fruit, herb or vegetable that is not healthy. If we all ate more of this natural stuff – and the recommended minimum is six portions a day – then we would all benefit.

So what’s beneficial about pumpkins ? Fiber for a start. They contain, as do most fruits of the earth, lots of natural fiber, the stuff that helps to keep your innards in good working order. And if you cook some of the dense, fleshy shell along with the flesh , the level of fiber will increase hugely.

In fact every bit of curcurbita pepo, a member of the vast squash family, is edible. In parts of America even the flowers are cooked, in Kenya the leaves. As a snack, the small flat seeds are a useful substitute for sunflower seeds.

The seeds are even a possible prophylactic against diabetes, one of the curses of a modern civilization hooked on sugar. Fed to affected rats, the seeds reduced glucose in their blood and lowered dangerous cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The orange flesh, moreover, is a good source of lutein and both A and B carotene, which the body is able to convert into vitamin A. This vitamin, so effective as an anti-oxidant, also helps to improve our immune function and keeps our eyes and skin in good order. Also available in carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes and apricots, it occurs in most members of the squash genus, but in none so liberally as in pumpkins.

If you want to grow these monsters, remember a few basic rules. Like marrows from temperate climes, they are vines that snake along the ground and consequently require lots of room – at least 10 meters.

Plant the seeds a few centimeters deep in good soil – it will need to retain water – and the seedlings should sprout after seven to 10 days. Water heavily whenever the soil gets dry or when the leaves show signs of distress. A pumpkin is more than 80 per cent water, so it needs plenty of it.

When the yellow blooms appear, they will be of both sexes. Distinguished by a bulb at the base of the flower, the female flowers require pollination. Normally this is performed by insects and especially bees, but since they are in such short supply, it may be necessary to hand pollinate by using a fine brush and mingling the pollen. The female flowers will die within a few hours if fertilization has not taken place.

The whole growth cycle may take in excess of a 100 days, but the smaller tropical varieties should mature more speedily.

When a pumpkin is ready for the table, cut the stem as far from the fruit as you can – maybe six inches. This procedure will help to preserve it. Left without a stem, it will rot away. That is, if you leave it that long…

Catch Patrick online here Sunday morning next week, when he explores the world of the sexually ambiguous papaya.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured, email: [email protected]. Further information about this gardening series and Patrick’s other work can be accessed here.

This article first appeared in the December 6-12 issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.

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— Patrick Campbell

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