It’s the run-up week to Halloween, not that it’s celebrated much in Malta. It is a bit fun for some before the religious remembrance days of All Saints on 1 November and All Souls a day later. But its Pagan origin does not detract from its appeal to first graders at school, and to some stationers and corner shops trying to sell seasonal paraphernalia. And of course, as befits the time of year and celebration (of whatever), pumpkins are heaped high in veggie shops and supermarkets once more, in eye-catching displays of robust golds, orange and russet.
For all its seasonal allure, the pumpkin is actually on offer all year round in Malta, and pretty much a staple, fail-safe vegetable season in, season out. True, it lends itself better to autumn-winter fare (soups, added to stews, and so on) but it’s just as available in peak summer in 40°C. It’s also everywhere; if you’re out and about in the countryside, you’re bound to come across roofs and walls with pumpkins lined up, picturesquely ripening in the sun.
The beauty of the pumpkin, despite being a rather bland veg, is that it’s cheap. Right now, it’s a snip at the price at 70c/kilo, which is a fraction of one I saw on sale in the UK last autumn. The Maltese actually eat pumpkin a lot, so it’s not sold at a premium lantern-making price – yet.
So, what is it turned into here? Well, Qargha (Maltese for not only pumpkin, but gourd and marrow as well) is a basic veg, so it dominates the medley that goes into Minestra (minestone), which is a regular, traditional lunchtime filler for many families. Pumpkin comes in both white (qargha torka) and orange (qargha hamra) fleshed varieties and adds bulk, and colour to stew (stuffat tal-Qargha Hamra). Occasionally, it’s made into pies, and among cognoscenti of celebrity chefs from beyond these shores, it’s turned into a mean risotto.
The small, rural locality of Manikata, in the North-West of Malta, holds an Annual Pumpkin Fair. It could be the place to work out what to do with pumpkin beyond making soup! The event, which starts at 10.30, Sunday 30 October, 2011, is run by the Manikata Farmers Cooperative; see their website for full details. The fair should prove an authentically seasonal outing for the kids this coming half term!