This Friday (October 23) The Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival returns for its seventh year with events across the city and county, run by the Good Food Oxford network.
This annual event is a celebration of food: creatively encouraging people to think about the food they throw away, promoting the diversity of locally grown vegetables and teaching new skills.
November usually starts with a flood of pumpkins being wasted, but Good Food Oxford member organisations are encouraging people to buy edible pumpkins, “squash food waste” and eat – rather than discard – the flesh of their Halloween pumpkins.
A recent poll by Hubbub found that people’s carving plans for this year are not likely to be impacted by COVID-19. A total of 23 million pumpkins will be bought to be carved this year, of which over half will not get eaten. More than half of the people polled did not realise that supermarket pumpkins are edible. Pumpkin Festival aims to change that and show everyone that pumpkins and squashes are tasty and nutritious.
While the opportunities for festival events are limited this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the county’s good food network has come up with resourceful ways of celebrating pumpkins while observing the guidelines. For instance at Cherwell Collective in Kidlington, families are asked to sign up in advance for a socially distanced carving and cooking event, and a farm tour to Tolhurst Organic in South Oxfordshire will be conducted all outdoors and socially distanced.
Several restaurants and community cafes will run pumpkin menus, and local chefs and community cooks will teach new skills in online videos. Nina Osswald, Coordinator at Good Food Oxford, said: “It wasn’t easy to put together as varied a programme as we normally have. But our network members have been very creative with thinking of other ways to make sure people get to eat and learn about pumpkins and squashes.”
Throughout the festival, recipe ideas are promoted through a recipe collection on the Good Food Oxford website, free online cooking demos and on social media.
Nina added: “Pumpkin Festival is a time we all look forward to a lot every year. It’s not just about raising awareness of food waste, but equally a celebration of the abundant harvest that our local food growers bring to the markets and produce stores at this time. What we’d like to see is that everyone in Oxford gets to taste the delicious pumpkins and squashes that are grown here, and appreciates their diversity. There’s so much more than the uniform Jack-O-Lanterns we see in the supermarkets at this time.”
The idea is to show that pumpkins are really versatile – the leaves from the younger plants can be cooked in summer, the toasted seeds are a delicious and healthy snack, and the softer varieties do not even need to be peeled before cooking or roasting. Cooked pumpkin flesh also works great in baking muffins, brownies and pies.
Rachel Burns, Waste Strategy Manager at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “If you do decide to dispose of your pumpkins, remember to compost them at home or put them in your food recycling bin. This will help the environment, as pumpkins and other food waste can be recycled and used to produce electricity and fertiliser for local farm land.”
The festival uses the spooky pumpkin staple as a prop to talk about the edible food we throw away and the easy steps we can take to eat it instead. It’s a celebration of food that challenges preconceptions, teaches new skills and has some fun along the way. It was piloted in Oxford in 2014, by Good Food Oxford and Hubbub, and has since taken the world by storm.
Good Food Oxford and Replenish Oxfordshire have big plans for starting next year’s Pumpkin Festival early by distributing seeds in the spring and supporting people across the county in growing their own pumpkins and squashes at home.
Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival 2020 is supported by Oxfordshire County Council and its Recycling and Waste Team, The Replenish Project and Community Action Groups Oxfordshire.
Some of the usual highlights of the festival, such as the guided tour to the food recycling plant in Cassington and the big Disco Soup on Bonn Square, were not possible this year. However, more activities will happen online with the hashtags #PumpkinRescue and #EatYourPumpkin.
Full festival programme with all event details are at https://goodfoodoxford.org/oxfordshire-pumpkin-festival and keep an eye on #PumpkinRescue and #EatYourPumpkin on Twitter
All events promote seasonal eating and not wasting food, accompanied by recipe cards with easy tips to reduce food waste.