Smashing pumpkins

Although some may think this is controversial, I am just going to come out and say it. I absolutely love Halloween! I cannot help it. After growing up in a country that celebrates it and spending much of my childhood counting down the months leading up to it, it was sort of inevitable. I could think of nothing better than spending hours trying to decide what to dress up as or figuring out the most strategic routes for trick or treating. It paid to be prepared because the more candy you had, the more of an advantage you would gain in the next day’s sweetie trading wars. But Halloween wasn’t just about hoarding candy or even eating pumpkin pie. The night was filled with ear-splitting fireworks displays, the smell of sparklers, running around with your friends in the dark, impromptu parties, grown-ups acting silly and everybody staying up far too late whether it was a school night or not.

Pumpkin gnocchi plate 3

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the Halloweens when things didn’t quite go according to plan. Like when the Vancouver torrential rain destroyed our homemade costumes made of cardboard in minutes and we had to ditch them and trick or treat in wet pjs. Or when we managed to go to every house in the entire surrounding area that only gave out boxes of raisins. Or when we ended up trapped on a street between houses, in the middle of a standoff between older boys who were firing Roman candle fireworks at each other and hurling lit jack o’ lanterns. 

However, in much of the UK, Halloween is still a relatively new celebration and many people are firmly against what they think is an unwelcome, unnecessary, imported festival, primarily about money-making and making mischief. Which is absolutely fine because it’s not for everyone. You can simply choose to opt out. However, despite the critics, its popularity is continuing to grow. Admittedly, I do not have the official figures, but it seems to be the case at least judging by the increasing number of trick or treaters knocking on our door each year and the quantity of jack o’ lanterns popping up exponentially in my neighbourhood. But as more people celebrate Halloween it is creating a growing amount of food wastage.

You will probably think that I am talking about the very scary statistic that has been the subject of many newspaper headlines: that only one third of pumpkins used as jack o’ lanterns will then be used to cook with. This translates to either 8 million pumpkins (or 15, depending on which newspaper you buy) being binned in a UK Halloween massacre, the day after they were cheerfully sitting outside to welcome trick or treaters. Fortunately, this year there has been a well-publicised campaign to address such waste and there is an abundance of easy recipes now freely available that can turn any jack o’ lantern into something delicious.

However, the kind of wastage that no one seems to want to admit to is the amount of leftover ‘treats’ that you can end up with at the end of the night. As a parent, it is one thing to have to manage your child’s haul of confectionary to ensure that they don’t spend the following weeks unable to be weaned off a sugar high. But what do you do if you have also been left with a sizeable number of leftover treats that you weren’t to give away at the door?

Of course, you could dole out some of the surplus treats to your own children if they only managed to visit the houses with the raisins. But do they really need them? You could always keep the treats for yourself to eat. But do you really like them or is it that you don’t want them to go to waste? Do you really need them? Perhaps you could squirrel them away out of sight and bring them out again for some special occasion in the future. You know the use by date is going to buy you several months. If you would really rather get rid of them, you could give the problem to someone. You wouldn’t be the first parent who has used this technique to slyly dole out the excess at your child’s school or club. This does risk the wrath of teachers and coaches, though, and your child may end up taking home the same treats you tried to give away after some trading. It may actually be easier to bring the treats in to your own workplace and plonk them down next to all the biscuits and random treats brought back from other people’s holidays. But then again, if you didn’t want them hanging around the house, are you going to be more tempted when all your colleagues are walking around eating your treats?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a bite-size solution to getting rid of leftover Halloween treats although many would argue that binning what is essentially highly processed sweetened fatty nonsense is exactly what we should be doing for our health. However, after examining the figures at home from this year’s Halloween, I can at least offer what I think is a top tip that may minimize the leftover treats for the future.

Leftovers are fundamentally a problem of supply and demand. But unless you have a magic ball, there is no way of knowing who is going to come knocking at your door on Halloween. The goal should then be, to finish the night without any leftover treats or at least the ones that you don’t mind having. It sounds obvious but in practice, it is far from simple. However, I realised how to do this when I gave out what I think is the best Halloween treat which I discovered some years ago on a very busy Halloween.

To be fair, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t prepared for that Halloween. The house was decorated, the pumpkins were carved and lit and the treats were ready by the door. I don’t know what happened that year exactly but maybe it was just when Halloween really started to catch on. Or maybe it was because there had been a baby boom some years earlier. In any case, on this particular Halloween, we got hordes and hordes of trick or treaters. It soon became clear that the supplies of treats were dwindling. I searched all the cupboards for any kind of back up. I was getting more desperate by the minute but there wasn’t anything I could imagine offering to the public. I racked my brain as I began to run out of time but then I had a sudden lightbulb moment: popcorn.

As fast as I could, I started popping that corn like a hysterical cinema vendor while trying to wrap it all into balls. Just in time, I answered the ringing door with the heaving bowl but as I was about to apologise for the lack of confectionary on offer I heard cries of ‘Oh! Popcorn!! Thank you!’ I couldn’t believe it and for the rest of the night I continued popping corn and only opened the door to surprised but happy punters. I did end up with some leftover popcorn balls but they were happily packed into lunches and munched at home.

Since then, I have always made popcorn and offered it alongside the usual treats but interestingly, the take-up of each has changed over the years. At first, I though it was a fluke but from my observational study the figures do not lie. The take-up of popcorn over treats has been increasing over the years. However, now we get almost 3 x as many trick or treaters choosing popcorn over treats when presented with both. For transparency, the popcorn we make is the traditional ‘from scratch’ method with very little oil and a sprinkle of salt. The treats we offer are always from a multipack of mini chocolate bars.

As a result, we may be taking the radical step of phasing out the Halloween sweet treats and going fully popcorn next year. That way we can easily and quickly make more on the night if needed and we actually don’t mind having any leftovers. Popcorn, unlike the majority of Halloween treats, can make a tasty and healthy snack.

This Halloween solution to food waste may suit my family well but not everyone is a fan of popcorn. I guess the trick is finding the treat that works for you. Which makes me wonder again about all those raisin givers. Is it possible that they were also doing the same?? After all, there are a lot worse things than being landed with some boxes of leftover raisins…

Having said all that, I am still going to share a recipe to use up any leftover jack o’ lanterns still around because I wanted to try to make Pumpkin gnocchi. It was a tasty success served with sage, garlic and chilli but it would also taste great with pesto.

Pumpkin gnocchi 4

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