I rather enjoy October. It’s a month that for some reason, always feels full of energy before we have to give in to the comatose effect of winter, when things wind down and we retreat inside from the rain and the cold to await the arrival of Spring. Besides, at the end of the month we have Hallowe’en.
One of the things I have discovered since living in France is that two countries can acknowledge the same key events in the year in totally different ways. Hallowe’en is a case in point.
Here in France the 31st October is rarely called Hallowe’en, they prefer La Toussaint (All Saints) Eve when, like Hallowe’en, it is believed that witches, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are out and about and it’s best to stay indoors. Where I live in rural France, the children rarely go Trick or Treating - for them it is an Americanism, despite it’s celtic roots. In the larger towns where there are contingents of Americans and other ex-pats, fancy dress parties are organised for the 31st, and bars and restaurants do a roaring trade serving their ghoulish customers. Customers who will have no worries about hangovers and being late for work the next day. Because for the French it is the next day November 1st - La Toussaint itself - that is one of the most important days in their year.
Celebrated all over France it is a public holiday and a time when families get together and remember their lost ones. Cemeteries are full of people visiting and placing their large pots of Chrysanthemums on graves, before spending the day together. (Make the mistake of giving Chrysanthemums to a living French person and you will swiftly be told Non! These flowers are for the dead. Cyclamen are frowned upon for a similar reason.)
French supermarkets (and I guess UK ones too?) are currently full of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Some will be carved and have candles placed inside but here the majority will be used in the kitchen. Pumpkin soup is a favourite - very warming on a cold day. The following recipe is very easy if you fancy having a go.
Preheat the oven to 200C or gas mark 6. Halve the pumpkin ( or quarter it if you prefer). Spoon out the seeds and put them to one side. Put the pumpkin on a roasting tray, with a large onion quartered, and a couple of garlic cloves. Scatter some herbs over i.e. herb de provence, rosemary or whatever you fancy. Roast for 45 minutes - to an hour. While the pumpkin is roasting, clean the seeds, spread in a single layer on a roasting dish, drizzle with oil, pop in oven. They’ll take about 10 minutes. Once the pumpkin is cooked, scoop out the flash and blend with the onion and garlic. Add some stock and puree, adding stock slowly until you get the consistency of the soup you like. At this stage you can add a dash of sherry if you like. Serve in individual bowls, with the roasted seeds sprinkled on top, and maybe a swirl of cream. Bon appétit!