Pump Up the Pumpkin
My very favorite pie is pumpkin. Made from freshly cooked sugar pie pumpkins, it's something I look forward to each year. While fresh pumpkin might sound challenging, it's really a lot easier to prepare than you might think! Whether you cook from scratch or open a can, pumpkin is nutritious, versatile and a must for your recipes.
The word pumpkin originates from the Greek word "pepon" which means "large melon." Pumpkin is a fruit (like all members of the melon family) and is native to North America where it has been used as food for thousands of years. In the United States, 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced every year, and they can range in size from very small (less than a pound) to gargantuan (over one thousand pounds!).
Pumpkins get their orange color from beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant. In addition to being fat free and low in calories, pumpkin also provides good amounts of vitamin C and fiber. Traditional cultures have always used the entire pumpkin, including the seeds, which are renowned for their great nutritional profile. The seeds are high in protein, provide a good source of zinc and iron, and contain chlorophyll as well as carotenes.
New to cooking fresh pumpkin? Here are some guidelines to get you started. First, don't use your carved out Jack-o-Lantern for food! It's probably not fresh and may have candle wax or other unsanitary stuff in it. Plus, larger pumpkins don't have the best flavor. They can be stringy and watery and are best for decoration and carving. For cooking, I prefer the smaller varieties, especially the little sugar-pie pumpkins; they are sweet and great for baking.
There are plenty of ways to cook fresh pumpkin, but here's what I do:
- Start with a couple of small sugar pie pumpkins.
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Cut off the stem ends, wash the pumpkins, cut them in half, and scoop out the seeds. (But wait! Don't throw the seeds away - roast them for a real treat!)
- Lay the pumpkins cut side down in an oiled baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.
- Cool, then scoop out the filling and mash it up. You can use a food processor for this, if desired.
- Two cups of mashed, freshly cooked pumpkin is the equivalent to one regular-sized can.
Here are some favorite ways to add pumpkin to your diet this fall:
- Add mashed pumpkin to soups.
- Dice or cube pumpkin and add to stews - great with pot roast too!
- Add mashed pumpkin to quick breads, muffins, cookies and cakes. Here is a recipe for pumpkin bread. Try it with fresh pumpkin!
- Use mashed pumpkin as a fat replacer in baked goods such as cakes and muffins. This healthy version of chocolate pumpkin cake does exactly that.
- Make pumpkin pancakes! Try substituting ½ cup pureed pumpkin for ½ cup milk called for in your favorite recipe.
- Cut off the top of a large round pumpkin. Carve out the insides and use it as a bowl for soups. Creamy soup or pumpkin soup would be perfect!
- Add cubed pumpkin to chili or spaghetti sauce and simmer until tender.
- This is an amazing pumpkin pie.
- And this pumpkin apple pie is simply delicious.
The shelled pumpkin seeds we buy at the store come from a special variety of pumpkin that produces long, flat, dark green, hull-less seeds. The seeds you find in large and small pumpkins in our produce departments look different, but they are perfect for roasting your own seeds. Even Jack-o-Lantern seeds roast up nicely. Whether you roast your own or pick some up in bulk, pumpkin seeds make a great snack as well as add flavor and crunch to many dishes.
Here are some ideas for pumpkin seeds:
Got a favorite pumpkin recipe? I would love to hear!