Mention the word “pumpkin” at any time of year, but especially in the fall, and most people can’t help but think of the enticing smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie wafting through the air. In fact, so popular is this alluring smell, that many retailers have it on their shelves in the form of room sprays, body scents, and candles.
Native to the American continent, pumpkins are from the family of Cucurbitaceae, which also includes cucumbers, squash, and melons. Scientifically speaking, they are considered to be a fruit, although seed catalogs will categorize them as vegetables. There are countless varieties of pumpkins, running the gamut from the small 2-5 pound “Baby Bear” to the 50-100 pound “Mammoth Gold,” or from the deeply ribbed “Fairytale” to the smoother skinned “Howden.” Some have long necks, some are round, and some are more elongated.
Most often when someone thinks of eating pumpkin, it’s the orange to yellow-orange inside (although there are a few varieties that are white inside) that they’re thinking of. However, this is one of those versatile foods, wherein not just the flesh is eaten, but the flowers, seeds, and peel can be consumed as well. And it seems that each edible part is a powerhouse of nutrition.
Just like zucchini blossoms, pumpkin blossoms are also edible. They are best the same day you pick them. You will want to choose the thicker-stemmed male blossoms. The female blossoms will have tiny little pumpkins growing at their base. If you don’t garden, you might be able to find these delicate blossoms (blooms) at your local farmer’s market. Make sure these are grown organically since these fragile blooms are difficult to wash. Most popular, it seems, are recipes wherein the blossoms are batter-dipped and fried, however, some prefer to eat these mildly sweet flowers raw in salads, or stuffed with a cheese mixture and baked. These delicate flowers are low in calories and are a good source of Vitamins A and C, as well as folate.
One of the things you will notice when cutting into a pumpkin is all the pulp and seeds. Once separated, the pulp can be put into your compost pile, but the seeds can be rinsed (make sure all trace of the pulp is washed off), dried, and eaten raw or seasoned and roasted in a 170˚ oven for 10-20 minutes. Also known as “pepitas,” these flat, asymmetrically oval seeds are packed with zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. While the other parts of the pumpkin are fairly low in caloric value, the seeds pack a punch of 245 calories per 1 cup serving, which come mainly from protein and fats. However, they provide beneficial amounts of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which can help to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good cholesterol (HDL) in your body.
At only 49 calories in a 1-cup serving and low on the glycemic value scale, the flesh and the rind of pumpkins are a powerhouse of nutrition, rich with the anti-oxidant beta carotene, Vitamin A, and potassium. Personally, I have never considered eating the rind, but according to nutritional reports, the peel is just as healthy for you as the flesh, having the same amount of nutrients, along with significant amounts of magnesium and iron. The orange-hued flesh is what most people think of when they consider eating pumpkin or pumpkin-based foods. Some people prefer to cook or bake the pumpkin themselves, claiming they get a much richer taste. Others opt for the simplicity of opening a can of store-bought puree.
When I was growing up, almost without fail, my Mom would buy one or two neck pumpkins each fall to cook and make pumpkin pie. So when I got married, I figured I’d do the same thing and every fall for the first five or six years or marriage, I would get some neck pumpkins, and start the time-consuming process of cutting, peeling (no, I didn’t use the rinds), cooking, and mashing. I even tried the technique my Grandma had used of roasting the pumpkin first; still it was a long drawn-out procedure. To top it all off, if the pumpkin didn’t cook down enough, there would be excess moisture, thus making the pies a bit on the “runny” side. One day as I was expressing my frustration to my Mom, I asked her if she could give me any cooking tips that would help me in my dilemma. She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Oh, Debbie, I don’t do that anymore…I buy the canned pumpkin.” And from then on, so did I.
Cooking pumpkin isn’t difficult, though, it’s just time-consuming. There are a few different methods, two of which are roasting and boiling. You’ll need the large round variety for roasting. Simply cut the pumpkin in half, clean out the pulp and seeds, then put the pumpkin on a baking sheet, skin side up, in a 300 degree oven for about an hour. When soft, scoop out the inside and mash into a puree to use in pies or other baked goods, or add some brown sugar to eat as a side dish.
A second method is boiling. After cleaning out the seeds and pulp, cut up the pumpkin into uniform cubes (peeling it is optional), put into a cooking pot and add a few inches of water (enough so the pumpkin doesn’t scorch on the bottom of the pot, but not too much that you are left with a watery substance if mashing). After bringing to a boil, simmer for about 30 minutes or until soft. At this point you can season the cubes and eat as is or mash for any recipe calling for pumpkin.
I understand there are two other methods as well. One method involves cutting off the stem of the pumpkin and roasting the entire fruit intact, then cleaning it out after it comes out of the oven and cools for a while. The second method is to prepare it just like in the boiling process but to microwave it instead.
Once the pumpkin is cooked, there are a variety of ways you can prepare it. Of course, there are the delicious baked goods– pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll, pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, just to name a few. And lest we relegate this versatile food to only the “sweet” category, let’s not forget the “savory” side where there are pumpkin casseroles, soups, and dips.
2 cup flour
3 tbsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ cup butter
½ cup milk
2/3 c. pumpkin
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, & cinnamon into a bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture looks coarse. Combine milk and pumpkin. Add to flour mixture. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board & knead gently a few times. Roll out to ½” thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter. Set biscuits 1” apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes. Yields 12 biscuits.
1 2/3 cups flour, sifted
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup shortening
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Grease a regular loaf pan 9 x 5 x 3 in. or use a non-stick coated pan & do not grease. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, & nutmeg. In a medium mixing bowl cream shortening, sugar & vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in pumpkin mixture. Stir in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with water until just smooth. Do not overbeat. Fold in nuts. turn batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until a cake tester inserted in center of bread comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Servings: 12
LIBBY’S® Famous Pumpkin Pie
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)
MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
POUR into pie shell.
BAKE in preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving. Yield: 8 servings.
****Did you know….The original “pumpkin pie” consisted of slicing off the pumpkin tops, removing the seeds, filling the insides with milk, honey, and spices, and then baked in hot ashes.****
by: Debbie Wirl