Are pumpkins invasive aliens? Our forebears would certainly have thought so. The old Celtic feast of Samhain, later known as Halloween, had celebrated the end of harvest and the start of winter, a time when the worlds of the living and the dead were very close. So people hoped and expected their ancestors would attend their Samhain feast. They even laid a place at the table for them but I wonder if grandfaither would have touched such alien fare as pumpkin pie.

Although I warmly welcome fruit and veg from the New World, I’m saddened to see the American pumpkin invading Halloween and almost driving our poor old tumshie lantern to extinction, just as its ‘trick or treat’ has replaced traditional guising.

Using a neep [swede] to carve out a lantern is tough work even for a parent, while removing pumpkin seeds and bits of stringy fibre is less spoon-bending. My sons were always delighted to see me struggle away with their precious neep and have since come to value Scottish traditions and culture.

But however different, neeps and pumpkins are both important for gardeners and cooks. Like courgettes and cucumbers, pumpkins are tender summer veg that need warm sun, good fertile soil and plenty room to crop well. They’re planted out after the last frosts in well composted ground and, ideally, on a hotbed of fresh horse manure or, failing that, grass clippings. For best cropping they should be a metre apart and produce larger and sometimes grotesquely vast fruits when growing stems are restricted to as little as one fruit.

But unlike other gourds, pumpkins improve when cured through storing in a cool, frost-free place. This toughens the skins, and makes pumpkins usable right into winter, when neeps are coming into their own.

These winter brassicas are much easier to grow than pumpkins. Like pumpkins, they need plenty water, but the soil must be much less fertile and they perform well when only 30cm apart. Unlike pumpkins, neeps must be direct-sown: I like to station sow, thinly covering a tiny pinch of seed every 30cm along a row. When large enough to thin, I snip off all but the strongest plant and put a cabbage collar round it. Neeps don’t need protection against cabbage whites, but, as ever, pigeons are a different matter.

Neeps store beautifully in the open ground and, unlike pumpkins, withstand whatever the winter throws at them. The flavour intensifies after frost, but I do also like the milder taste and texture you get just now.

Unlike other brassicas, neeps can be boiled and mashed on their own or with tatties. This approach would be disastrous with pumpkins.

To counteract the natural sweetness of neeps, pepper has long been used and other flavourings, like saffron, coriander and curry leaves can spice up the vegetable. Alternatively, you could curry roast or put in a gratin.

And the culinary wheel has come full circle. It’s now widely recognised that vegetables are at their nutritional best when eaten raw,. The modern way of grating neep raw and serving in a dressing with fresh ginger and dill would have been considered most uncivilised by the early 19th Century cookery writer, Meg Dodds: “in the days of semi-barbarism they [neeps] were served raw as a delicate whet before dinner, as turnips are in Russia at the present day.”

If Dodds had been familiar with pumpkins, she probably wouldn’t have been so sniffy about roasting and spicing them up with cardamon, cumin and turmeric, served with something fresh and sharp. And pumpkin soup for the scooped out flesh would have been acceptable, even if she had disapproved of pumpkin lanterns.

Plant of the week

Apple ‘Bloody Ploughman’. Long stalk and knobbly shape make this perfect for dookin. Good, gory backstory too. Can be eaten raw but better as a cooker.