KILDUFF FARM in East Lothian is gearing up for its fifth pumpkin season and owners the Calders have made it their mission to tickle the culinary tastebuds of their customers, by providing a fantastic collection of trialled and tested recipes to try at home.

Lucy and Russell Calder are passionate about educating their children on where their food comes from and ensuring they can play an active role in the farm’s journey – which has led to the farm undergoing a transformation.

Russell’s grandfather first moved to Kilduff Farm in 1963, and started growing potatoes, wheat and barley. Following his death in 2010, Lucy and Russell took over the running of the farm – which had stopped growing potatoes by that point – and added oats and beans to the operation and in recent years, pumpkins, apples and pears.

Russell and Lucy decided that there wasn’t a huge amount on the farm to engage with their three young children Maisie (12) Louisa (9) and Charlie (5) and wanted to widen their offering so that they could get more involved.

“We are an arable farm with 1100 acres, so there isn’t too much for young kids to be involved with as it is mainly big machinery,” said Lucy. “We decided with growing pumpkins, that the children could help sow the seeds and follow their growth through to them being harvested in the autumn.”

In 2017 the Calders carried out a trial patch of pumpkins to see how they would grow in the east coast and invited friends and family along at Halloween to pick a pumpkin for Halloween. It was a huge success, and they decided the next year to increase their planting and open up their farm to the public to pick their own.

“We are now coming in to our fifth year of pick your own pumpkins, an activity which is exploding in popularity across the country,” continued Lucy. “In 2017, we were one of a handful of farms doing it but now lots are taking advantage of the trend.”

Even during the pandemic, Lucy and Russell explained that they were extremely popular with the public as their farm provided a safe green space for kids to visit and they sold over 8,000 pumpkins through the ticketed event.

All pumpkin seeds are sown by hand in April in polytunnels before being planted outside at the end of May.

“This year we have sown just shy of 20,000 seeds and depending on germination we would hope to produce around 19,000 pumpkins come the autumn,” continued Lucy.

The pumpkins are divided between two patches – one which is opened as a pumpkin festival to the public come October and another which is dedicated to specialist culinary pumpkins where they trial different varieties.

“We open to the public for 10 days in October in a ticketed event – normally running three sessions every day. The first year we didn’t ticket the event and it was a bit crazy,” Lucy added.

“We are keen to make the experience an enjoyable one for families and we have an enclosed area so kids can do different activities and run around in a safe environment. We have food trucks that come in to provide food, information boards teaching kids about the pumpkins and there are photo experiences – it offers a great family day out. We were slightly restricted with Covid last year but hope to run as close to normal this year.

“People love coming to the outdoors and being on a farm In a beautiful location – it is a lovely experience for young children to take part in.

What makes Kilduff Farm a slightly different pumpkin experience is that the Calders are extremely passionate about pushing the culinary side of their business and have been trialling lots of different varieties of pumpkins and matching them up with yummy recipes which they share on their website.

“We know a lot of people typically pick a pumpkin as part of the Halloween experience, but we are keen to encourage our customers to get creative in the kitchen too and experiment with all the different and delicious recipes that they can be made in to.”

Lucy explained that there are multiple varieties of pumpkins and they have made it their task to find and plant the best varieties and now have customers who come searching for particular varieties to match with favourite recipes.

“We have spent a lot of time trialling pumpkins, especially looking for ones which are better for eating. Right now, we are growing 29 varieties and once they are fully grown, we test them and find out what recipe they are best suited for.”

They work closely along with a nutritionist to develop this side of their business.

“Everybody makes soup, but pumpkins are very versatile, and we encourage our customers to explore other things like wedges, cakes, bread and pumpkin pies,” said Lucy, adding that the latter is one of the recipes they are asked most frequently for, prompting them to create their very own pumpkin pie recipe which uses honey from beehives on the farm.

The two most sought-after varieties of pumpkin on the farm she said is one called ‘Tractor’ which is perfect for making muffins, and another called ‘Crown Prince’, which she explained is a brilliant blue silver colour and is perfect for roasting.

During the pandemic, the Calders have been developing their website and collection of recipes which are all available to the public online, as well as on their social media channels.

“This year we produced a grow along box that includes pumpkin seeds and instructions to grow your own at home. With more people spending time at home and in their kitchens, we wanted to encourage them to try something new.

As well as selling their pumpkins directly to the public, the Calders have worked hard to establish relationships with restaurants and two years ago started supplying Tom Kitchen’s Michelin restaurant the Bonnie Badger.

Although things have been stymied by the pandemic and the closure of hospitality, they are hopeful to ramp this side of their business up again, and are also keen to sell their pumpkins through farm shops locally.

A well as developing the pumpkin side of their business, earlier this year the Calders decided to establish a new orchard on the farm.

“We already had a large orchard in the farmhouse garden with around 50 apple and pear trees,” said Lucy. “It prompted us to establish a new orchard on the farm and we planted 1500 apple and pear trees this March. We felt it was something else we could develop and get the kids involved in, to teach them more about farming and where their food comes from.”

“We felt it was silly that so many apples come from south of the border or abroad and similar to the pumpkins felt we should start looking at different varieties which would work well here.

“Some varieties are old heritage varieties, and all are Scottish fruit trees. We have a mix of cider, eating, cooking and pear trees,” she explained.

“We are hoping in three years when we have a good enough crop that we could supply farm shops and restaurants and are looking at ways to use them here on the farm too.”

Planting trees was also the perfect opportunity to boost biodiversity on the farm and Lucy pointed out that she was keen to create natural habitats for wildlife and boost pollinating populations.

The long-term goal for the Calders and their fruit trees is to develop their own apple juice under the Kilduff Farm brand.

Lucy concluded: “We would like to establish an East Lothian apple juice. Apples grown here and pressed here. There are a huge number of apple trees in East Lothian which go to waste, and we would like to collect them and put them to use. For us everything is about making our operation more sustainable and ensuring our children can have an active role in the farm to fork process.”