The Pumpkin Patch: Pick-Your-Own at Rougham Estate
Halloween divides opinion in our household. I have always been drawn to the spooky season: what a wonderful excuse for ghost stories, pumpkin displays, scented candles, and dressing-up! Sam, on the other hand, is the Halloween sceptic: too much plastic tat and abusive trick-or-treaters...
To a certain extent, I agree, and I think it is a shame that Halloween gets hijacked by single-use plastic and highly-flammable children’s costumes, but at its core, the thought of misty graveyards, autumnal décor and feasting, with maybe a horror movie before bed, makes me feel warm inside. For me, Halloween is one of the events that truly celebrates some of the best things about the Autumnal season (plus, I’ll take any excuse to partake in some homemade pumpkin pie).
Sam may be a sceptic about Halloween itself, but over the years he has learnt to love the variety of pumpkins, gourds and squashes we welcome into our house at about this time each year. They adorn the coffee table, the stove, the kitchen windowsill; basically, anywhere flat and stable enough.
Decorating with real pumpkins and squashes is a real treat. They add a warm Autumnal glow to our cosy little home as the evenings draw in, you get an entirely new display each year (without plastic in landfill), and, once Halloween has passed, you have lots of cooking opportunities: pumpkin pie, squash soup, and our one-pan sausage and pumpkin supper.
For years, however, the only way for us to get our seasonal display was, at best, to buy them off the market at the weekend and, at worst, pick them up from a soulless supermarket along with the weekly shop (or, for an utterly soulless experience, order them online…). Let’s face it, the experience of picking your Jack-O-Lantern is no more exciting that picking up a pack of unwaxed lemons.
All this changed for us last Autumn, when Rougham Estate announced that they were running their own Pick-Your-Own Pumpkins event just a few miles from our house, with plenty of pumpkins and ghoulish-looking gourds. Suddenly, the soulless supermarket experience we had been dreading was exchanged for something more completely different: earthy, wholesome, exciting.
Rougham Estate manage more than 3,000 acres of land to the east of Bury St Edmunds, most of which is unfortunately not accessible to the public, but they do hold a number of events each year that allow people to visit: including their Christmas Shop at Blackthorpe Barn, regular tours to Rougham Hall throughout the autumn and winter, and Pick-Your-Own events for sunflowers and pumpkins.
We visited last year on the weekend before Halloween. We had been unsure of what to expect, but when we arrived, it all went smoothly. The whole experience had been really well thought through – the wheelbarrow-collection, the children’s entertainment, the refreshments. There were towers of hay bales for the little-ones to climb, as well as old fashioned games involving throwing bean bags, just like the games you remember playing at school fairs.
We took our wheelbarrow into the fields in search of our perfect autumnal display pieces. In addition to the traditional Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, Rougham also grow gourds of every variety imaginable. Orange, yellow, white, and green; big, small, round, acorn, long. Some are so gnarly and knobbly that they defy description. All are there for the picking.
I am not sure how long we spent choosing our pumpkins. It took longer than we thought, but the time went so quickly. Afterwards we enjoyed a coffee and a hot chocolate from Wrights, while sat on a bale of hay, listening to the conversations of other fellow-pickers and the excited playing of children.
We were pleased to learn that Rougham Estate have their pumpkin patch open again this year. They opened at the beginning of the month, and are open every weekend in October, and then every day from 20 October. If you haven’t been, then I really encourage you to give it a go. We are planning our return visit. We promise it will put much more of a smile on your face than getting your pumpkin from a supermarket!