In Maidstone we are lucky to have Pumpkin Moon right on our doorstep and this year the choice and variety of pumpkin on offer is even larger. Armed with a colourful wheelbarrow, there are three fields of pumpkins to explore and once picking is done the onsite café, bar, splendid coffee company, ice cream van, face painting, pumpkin painting, story-telling and maize maze makes Pumpkin Moon a true family treat.
Taking pumpkin growing to the next level, avid pumpkin enthusiast and farmer Charlie Eckley took over the family farm three years ago. In need of diversification, Charlie tapped into his love of pumpkins and squashes to create these fun fields of Halloween magic.
The thought behind this diversification is two-fold. First of all, creating what is demanded – some pumpkins are lumpy bumpy, some long and thin, green and gruesome with white spots black streaks or pumpkins with double bellies. Green, white, yellow and orange these pumpkins and squashes are perfect for creating warty witch faces, crazy carving and giving customers all the fun of Halloween. Secondly many varieties of pumpkin on sale at Pumpkin Moon make fantastic food.
Charlie recommends combining pumpkin and squashes to create different dishes and recipes are on their website. Having been put off eating pumpkin at an early age I tried Pumpkin Moon’s pumpkin and squash soup with trepidation; it was delicious, and I am now a convert!
The motivation for encouraging more cooking with pumpkins is to combat the huge waste Halloween creates. Many people simply carve the pumpkin and after Halloween throw them out with the waste. Growing so many pumpkins means that Charlie is left with hundreds of pumpkins after the Halloween season, but ensuring minimum wastage is very important to the ethos of Pumpkin Moon and last year they invited ‘The Gleaning Network’ to take their unsold pumpkins away. 70 people turned up and made pumpkin soup on site, picking 25.23 tonnes of pumpkins which were then distributed to 20 cities within Scotland, Wales and England servicing over 1,000 homeless hostels, food banks and charities and locally to the Fareshare Kent depot, Ashford Vineyard Project and Gastro Hub. The pumpkins created 315,375 portions of free food. The Gleaning Network have been invited back again this year.
Pumpkin Moon is a fascinating place. As well as all the fun for the family it is educational. When talking to Charlie about the farm his passion for the pumpkin is clear. Starting out in 2016, Pumpkin Moon had concentrated on growing 90% orange pumpkins and 10% variety, by the second year the variety of pumpkin had leapt to 50% and this year 70% of all the pumpkins are a variety with squashes in abundance too, the majority of which you can not buy in the shops.
Charlie has even inadvertently created a new type of pumpkin (yet to be named) due to cross pollination and it is all thanks to Britain’s busy bumble bees. Pumpkins are a magnet for bees which love the pumpkin flowers and thanks to their help, this year Charlie has been able to grow 70 different types of pumpkin and squashes including the oldest type of pumpkin recorded.
The humble pumpkin is the oldest domesticated fruit in the world with mention of its use in 5500BC in North America. One of the oldest type of known pumpkin is the ‘Bird Nest Pumpkin’. The shape of this fruit hangs down like a bird cage and, when aired and dried, hardens as strong as ply wood. In Peru apparently farmers hung hollowed out Bird Nest Pumpkins around the edge of their crop fields to encourage the nesting of Purple Martins who feasted on the bugs and insects that tried to devour their crops.
With so many fascinating farming facts and a huge passion for the countryside Charlie is a strong advocate of getting out into the open fields to pick pumpkins and wants to build a barn onsite to use as a place to inform school children about farming.
Pumpkins have now got under my skin, versatile, aesthetically bonkers and providing the promise of a soup that is truly deserving of the title a ‘winter warmer’, I feel another trip to Pumpkin Moon coming on next week…
For more info, address, opening times etc visit their website.