The tradition is that everybody brings a dessert, and there were some delicious offerings. There were miniature cupcakes, iced with orange, and topped with star sprinkles or chunks of chocolate flake; zucchini autumn trifle; and our own offering, do-it-yourself-toffee-ice-cream-sundaes.
After we had eaten, we had another round of cider tasting, then everbody carved a pumpkin. It was lovely to see everybody absorbed, and of course, everybody gets to take their pumpkin home, which makes a marvellous party bag!
If you have not had a pumpkin carving party, then I would say do give it a go. You can make it more autumnal than halloweeny if you like, as we do, or you can go all out and make it spooky. I enjoyed serving all the drinks in tea cups, as it put a little-sips-of-tea twist on things. Here are some recipes to get you started:
Hot Pear Spiced Cider
Into a slow cooker, pour 1 litre of pear cider (I used Kopparberg) and stir in a slosh of dark rum (Mount Gay is my favourite). You can make it as strong or weak as you like! I then stirred in some of Whittard's Mulled Wine Instant Tea powder to taste, but in the past I have also used little bags of mulling spice. Finally, float in some sliced orange, leave to get steamingly hot, and ladle into pretty teacups to serve.
Earl Grey Spiced Apple Tea
This makes a lovely offering for those who choose not to drink, are pregnant, or are driving. It is so simple, but tastes so much more than the sum of its parts. Into a saucepan, pour a carton of apple juice, about a litre in all. There is no need to buy anything more than the most basic kind for this. Into the juice place three Earl Grey teabags (after the recent controversy, you may wish to avoid Twinnings!) and place on a low heat. Once it is steamingly hot, take the tea bags out, and pour the tea into a pre-warmed teapot to serve. Keep it warm with a tea cosy. My top tip for prewarming a teapot is to take the lid off, and hold it upside down over a steaming kettle so the steam warms it.
Spiced Pumpkin Stew
This is another very simple recipe, and does not require much attention, but does require plenty of time for long slow cooking, so the flavours can meld together. The list of spices is long, but they marry together so well, it is worth buying any that you don't already have in your storecupboard.
You will need:
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1/2 tsp tumeric
pinch dried chillies
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or a squeeze of Lazy Garlic
500g pumpkin, peeled and cubed*
I tin plum tomatoes
3 dried apricots
*you should have 500g pumpkin after you have peeled and deseeded it. Make the cubes fairly chunky, so they are substantial, but not so large that they aren't bitesized. Also, do make sure that you get a 'culinary pumpkin' not a carving one!
1) Heat the oil, then add the mustard seeds, and wait for them to 'pop'.
2) Stir in the other spices, and let them cook for a minute or so, until they are really fragrant.
3) Stir in first the garlic, and then the onion.
4) Cook on a very low heat long and slow, until the onions are meltingly tender.
5) Add the pumpkin, then stir in. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
6) Blitz the canned tomatoes in a blender, then stir in. Cook for another 5 minutes.
7) Blend the apricots into the water, then add to the pan.
8) Boil and simmer until the pumpkin is soft. This iwll probably take about 20-30 minutes.
9) Stir in the spinach, which should wilt down very quickly.
10) Your stew is ready to serve, and will freeze nicely. Serve with rice or jacket potatoes, and garnish with pumpkin seeds, perhaps a little grated cheese, and a drizzle of chilli oil.