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Muddy Makes: Burnt Pumpkin Caponata

Behind every gourmet hang-out and home-cooked meal in the Duchy there’s an army of people growing, digging, nurturing, churning, blending, preserving, fishing and so much more; here at Muddy we are keen to tell their stories.

In our latest series, we’re bringing you seasonal recipes from local chefs, plus (thanks to Truro Farmers Market) we can also showcase the people truly responsible for all that awesome Cornish produce.

First up for October, and veggie in honour of World Vegetarian Day, we have a recipe from Ben Quinn of Canteen / Woodfired Canteen made with produce from Goonown Growers in St Agnes.

Goonown Growers

Rob and Ed of Goonown Growers – an organic growing cooperative established by three families – are busy plucking an array of colourful veg on a beautiful, bright morning in early autumn. 

Their ranks swelling as other family members join the effort, they are gradually filling box after box with rainbow chard, spinach, cavalo nero, kohlrabi and courgettes ready to be weighed and distributed through their veg box scheme or sold at Truro Farmer’s Market.  

Just a year ago this relatively small field near St Agnes was common pasture; today it’s a highly productive market garden, carefully designed to achieve maximum yields and maintain productivity all year round.

A fresh approach

It’s one of those projects which is simple and ambitious, traditional and progressive all at the same time, and Rob and Ed hope that it will help will more of us enjoy the freshest, organically grown veg as a result.

“Our aim is to use environmentally-beneficial methods to grow tasty food crops we can harvest manually,” explains Rob. “With clever techniques and a quick route to market, we can sell our produce at an affordable price, while providing employment for local people at the living wage. 

It sounds rudimentary but bizarrely in our current, convoluted food system, it’s quite an unusual approach. And regulars at Truro Farmer’s Market are reaping the rewards, with buckets of colourful, freshly plucked veg on sale week after week!  

Healthy soil, healthy food   

Ed tells me that it will take around two years until Goonown Growers receive official organic certification through The Soil Association, and they estimate three more years until optimal biodiversity and soil health is achieved. 

It’s a rigorous process and growing organically presents many challenges, but Ed and Rob have considerable experience to draw on, having worked in various large organic market gardens (such as Purton House Organics) previously. 

Glebelands City Growers in Manchester is providing something of a model for their project, although our beloved Cornish climate poses its own challenges… 

“We’re still getting to know the soil on our patch and how it responds to different factors,” explains Rob. “We are yet to see a full annual growing cycle here so we’re learning all the time.” 

Caterpillars, slugs, wireworm and wind damage are all problems for which natural solutions must be found – and no, apparently throwing slugs into the neighbour’s garden isn’t the answer! 

Food for the community, grown by the community

Goonown Growers is a community supported agriculture scheme, which means that local people share the work, risks and rewards of food production; the hope is that schemes like this will allow people to understand, partake in, and direct local food production once again.   

“We want to teach, we want to engage, we want to learn, we want to have fun, but above all we want to get local people involved in the project as much as possible,” says Rob.

Small groups of volunteers are able to visit the site with prior organisation and, recognising the physical and mental health benefits they can offer, Goonown Growers want their enterprise to become a hub of community life in St Agnes.

Social sessions and even community feasts (count us in!) are on the cards in the future once Covid-19 restrictions ease up, but for now the best way to get involved is to register interest in one of those delicious veg boxes, or visit the Goonown Growers stall at Truro Farmers Market – where you’ll find a whole host of other great local producers too!

& what to make with it? Over to you Ben.

For me, autumn is about celebrating the summer we have just had. All that sunshine has been captured in food-form in a bounty of fruit and vegetables; their sweetness is now ready to be unleashed and nourish us as the nights draw in and temperatures drop. 

It’s time to hunker down and indulge in the desire for pure comfort. This dish makes the most of that seasonal impulse, as well as the produce available. Treat this like a warm chutney. It is delicious scooped straight from the pan with hunks of brown bread or served the next day at room temperature. You can add pickled fish (bass, mackerel, trout) if you like, but it’s hearty and wholesome on its own”. 

Burnt Pumpkin Caponata 

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 2 large pumpkins or squash
  • 2 red onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 red chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced 
  • 150g of ripe tomatoes
  • Handful of raisons
  • Handful of toasted almonds 
  • Handful of capers

Optional – trout, mackerel, sea bass or any other fast cooking fish – gutted, scaled and cleaned. Grill over open fire, in a pan or in the oven until nearly cooked, then lightly pickle in cider vinegar and olive oil to finish off the cooking process. 

Method 

Start with the squash or pumpkins – we do this in our open fires, but an oven will do the job too. Simply roast them whole until soft; an hour at 180˚C is usually just right. 

While you’re waiting for them to cook, blister the tomatoes in a pan. When they start to pop, add the garlic, chilli, raisons, and almonds. Season with oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Take the pan off the heat and let the ingredients mingle. 

When the squash or pumpkins are done, take them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, take chinks of the flesh and add it to the tomato mixture, stirring gently. Taste and season to your satisfaction – It should be sweet, sticky and the squash will be deliciously creamy. 

To serve, place a bowl of the caponata in the middle of your table along with a bowl of the pickled fish if you choose. Let your guests combine the two. A loaf of brown bread wouldn’t go a miss, or some simply boiled potatoes with plenty of mint and butter. 

Images of Goonown Growers ©Stewart Girvan

Images of Ben Quinn and recipe ©Finisterre

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