Warm Spiced Squash Salad

This afternoon as the sun turned gold around the edges, we realised that if we were going to get that walk we had to go now. Wellies were pulled up over stripy knee socks, hoods and hats arranged, dried mango and torches stowed in pockets just in case.

Our walk took us up the steep side of Lewesdon Hill, thickly covered with ancient beech trees gently burnishing the dark earth below with redundant leaves. The air was clean and yet so full of a rich fruitcake smell, laced with a little black soil and a wonderful mineral scent that rises after a light rain. We meandered muddily upwards, newly found knobbly sticks in hand, the occasional birch gleaming at us from between the mossy beeches. Tiny yellow leaves twinkling brightly in the dusky shade above.

A few brave mushrooms poked their round heads above the thick leaf carpet, protected from the November frosts - but we are not mushroom-aficionados and left them to someone more knowledgeable lest we regret a mistaken identification.

Half way up the hill, someone had thoughtfully tied a piece of rope to a sturdy branch jutting over a hollow. Fin leaped onto the simple seat with a look of pure joy and swung around in circles, pushing his feet against the trunk for leverage. His eyes and teeth shone brilliantly in the gloom as he sent peals of laughter tumbling away and echoing back again in the deep quiet.

After a couple of mango stops we made it to the very top and stood on the flat plateau, catching our breath, feeling our hearts thud warmly against thick winter clothing. The sun had sunk below the horizon already, leaving a rosy blush all along the distant hills. When we looked back a few minutes later, night was already on the way, casting a slatey shadow on the clouds. Fin was glad we had bought the torches.

Down we went, over the other side, watching the sky turn gold and picking our way gingerly through bracken and gorse to the foot of the hill. As night crept in around us, Fin started to feel a little uncertain and sought a hand to hold. An owl hooted out across the valley and we stopped to listen, holding our breath a little. Up above us a bat stole silently in and out of the trees, turning sharply at each end of an invisible loop. We stood spellbound.

'would now be a reasonable time to turn on my torch?' asked Finley in a hopeful voice.

Yes, now was the very time - so Fin bounced on ahead, turning every now and then to shine the torch in our eyes and temporarily blind us, whilst offering a running commentary on every root and muddy patch to come.

Eventually we completed the circle, stowed muddy boots and headed back home - Fin brandishing a new and perfect wizarding staff with just the right amount of wobble and a useful knot for resting your hand on between spells, munching contentedly on the last of the mango.

It was already late and supper time was calling. I wanted something that reminded me of that bronze hued late autumn walk, something light and yet comforting, sweet and mildly spiced, with a touch of green. So just over half an hour later we were tucking into warm squash salad in a cinnamon scented kitchen, whilst Finley explained something in very great detail - using drawings and hand gestures for emphasis.

That walk seemed to symbolise our journey into wintertime. The expansive golden sky of autumn making way for the dusky shadows of winter. A time to huddle round the fire, hold hands and enjoy the comfort of cosy family time. A little hibernation into which we gratefully go with our torches at the ready, scarfs wrapped tight.......

You don't have to walk to the top of a very steep hill in order to enjoy this salad, but I can recommend a walk at twilight with a small boy and a torch.

Warm Spiced Squash Salad (serves 4-6)

This would be a great dish to serve with some slow cooked meat, or a quickly roasted piece of beef, pink and juicy, carved into thin slices.

1 1/2lb squash - peeled and de-seeded weight - approx one small butternut or celebration squash
Olive oil
couple pinches of salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
couple of large pinches of black pepper or cayenne
4 cloves of garlic
a couple of handfuls of flat leaved parsley leaves
1 pomegranate
lemon juice to taste

preheat the oven to 180C fan assisted, 190C if not

Chop squash into approximately 2cm cubes. Chop the garlic finely.

Into a mixing bowl put the chopped squash, garlic, spices, salt and a good slosh of olive oil - enough to coat everything lightly. Smoosh together with your hands - or a spoon if you are more refined. Tip onto a large flat tray and spread into a single layer - you may need two to get everything into one layer.

Bake for about 20-25 mins, until soft and starting to crisp around the edges. Set aside to cool a little.

Chop parsley roughly and set aside.

Chop pomegranate in half and beat it over a large bowl with the flat of a wooden spoon until all the seeds have dropped out. Keep turning it to get at a fresh section of seeds, and try not to hit your hand! Pick out any bits of membrane that fall in the bowl as they are bitter.

To assemble the salad, put the warm squash on a pretty flat serving plate and sprinkle the parsley over it. Then scatter the pomegranate seeds over the parsley and squeeze on some lemon juice. Voila!

Eat warm or room temperature, but not chilled - yuck, chilled squash.....