One of the areas of academic work that many forget to acknowledge is downtime and the benefits of learning through downtime.

I have enthusiastically attempted to cultivate african vegetables over the years and my success is nowhere near celebrity gardens but I daresay somewhat good considering one cannot plant and walk away.

My poly tunnel is my quiet space and all too often I find myself in the back yard fiddling with the plants trying to keep things in tip top shape and sometimes mourning the death of something that was looking quite sprightly until unfriendly friendly bugs thought they would have a go first.

But back to the radishes,…. well I planted them, and as sprouted I forgot to check the guide and I gave them the best love till they went to flower, so now I have radish seed pods but no radishes.

Well that is not the goal of this post, the key goal was to highlight my other booboo, I wanted pumpkins and squash, particularly butternut squash because I love them instead of mash and our pet/food GALS (that’s giant african land snails) love them too.

Now I have said pet/food because I am by no means a vegetarian and we actually rear and eat GALS in my own culture. Generally we leave the ones in the wild alone but once you have two in an enclosure and the best supply of nutrition, they will lay eggs and make babies providing a supply of protein and nutrients. They are usually disptached when they are about 2-3 years old and by then they are ready for the pot and generally coming to the end of their growth too.

But this was about pumpkin soup, well I had squash seeds, pumpkin seeds and butternut squash seeds and I planted them all, but they died because I forgot to turn off the heat mat and water them for just one day. That was all it took.

I came across some squash plants for a steal at a shop ( which brings me to my other weakness; rescuing dying plants at the garden centre and nursing them, which my nearest and dearest will agree is actually a good thing because they don’t really have legs and they can’t do much harm).

In any event, I planted them and in my mind I had butternut squash not squash…. but they have flowered and are now actually growing fruit.

This year I have had the royal job of squash husbandry using a paint brush to make sure pollination definitely happens which trumps previous years when they would flower and wither while I wondered what I did wrong.

Well moving along…. yesterday I had the joyful task of harvesting some of the leaves from the plant and using them to make a culinary delight – Melon seed soup

When I looked up english things I could do with squash leaves, I have to say they did not look as alluring as what I planned based on my palate, but I also discovered I could use the radish seed pods and they are edible and although I don’t think I will be pickling them, I now know all is not lost after all.

So the garden has given me some lessons. You can harvest radishes in a month and you can get pumpkins if you arm yourself with a tiny paint brush. Importantly, buying a squash plant won’t produce butternut squash.

On a joyful note, melon seed soup sounds rather bland but it is actually a cultural delight traditionally called Egusi soup and I wish I could call it something exotic however I have this inane fear of doing anything to earn me the dreaded bougie title before my peers.

If you’re feeling fancy, then don’t call it egusi, instead say its : ” A selection of smoked and fresh seafood with choice cuts of meat folded in a delicate loaded african sauce made with selected dried and ground premium choice melon seeds and thinly sliced squash leaves prepared with delicately extracted raw palm oil”

To try out

For two

20-30mls of raw red palm oil (4-6 tablespoons)

1 medium onion ( about twice the size of a standard supermarket large egg)

1 red sweet pepper

1/2 a tablespoon of paprika/hot pepper

200g Grilled smoked haddock /cod (about 1 cup)

100g Sun dried cod soaked in water overnight to soften ( 1/2 a cup

20g sun dried shrimp ( This is about 2 tablespoons)

1 teaspooon of anchovies dried preferably but in oil with oil drained works

100g king prawns (optional)

about 3-5 finely shredded large pumpkin/squash/butternut squash leaves (rinsed in some sterilising liquid if youre organic planting then clean water)

200g of shelled melon seeds (about 1 cup)

300g of diced lamb or diced lean beef or good meaty wild mushrooms.

1 clove of garlic, one finger of ginger or one teaspoon of garlic and one of ginger powder.

To cook

Rinse your melon seeds and add them to a blender with half the onion and the sweet pepper.

blend to a paste and set aside

blend or grate or chop or blitz or pound the other half of the onion with the garlic and ginger and add the paste to a pan and add your meat. add a cup of water and salt to taste.

Steam the meat for about 15 mins or till tender but not stringy and strain It should be about 100 mls or less

If youre using mushrooms use a vegetable stock and for added oomph add a tablespoon of mushroom powder to it.

Set the entire stock aside

Put your red palm oil in a pan and bring to heat (just melt it, don’t let it heat or you’ll bleach it and smoke yourself out)

once hot, add your melon paste and the meat stock or vegetable stock and bring briskly to the boil and let it fry , it will take on the appearance of scrambled egg as you stir and that is what you want.

Add your paprika/hot pepper,, softened sundried cod , rinsed sun dried shrimp and anchovies and stir in. If you don’t like to see bits in your food don’t worry, most of this will dissolve and blend in

After about 5 mins add your sliced pumpkin leaves

Finally when it thickens add your Grilled smoked haddock /cod and king prawns as you don’t want to overcook those.

Once you add the fish at the end, you want to fold it in gently and lower the heat and cover the pot

Give it about 5 mins and voila, you have Nigerian pumpkin soup or Egusi

We usually add a blend of meats that come under the offal category so if you are a big meat eater, using tripe, trotters, tongue, cheek, belly etc are recommended.

If you’re totally a leaf eater, you can definitely substitute all the fish products for suitable vegetables and wild mushroom is fabulous in this with courgette cubes and squash chunks but don’t tell anyone traditional it is Nigerian….

Well there we have it, you are now culturally immersed and you can have this with what we call swallow or with rice.

Swallow is a generalised term used to describe any blend of steamed flours/pastes eaten in Africa ( it could be sundried or roasted fermented cassava, sundried yam, rice flour, green or yellow plantain flour or paste, fermented corn or cassava paste, corn flour, semolina, oat flour or boiled and pulverised yam or potato mash )

In my photos you will see stockfish (sundried cod), smoked fish (fresh smoked cod fish skin on which looks quite black ) cowfoot and steamed beef because I add the prawns and fish last and didnt take a photo.

I don’t know if it ranks on the nutritional scale of healthy, but I do know that it is fabulously delicious and as long as you have swallow in moderation, life is beautiful.

The end product