Nothing says autumn like pumpkin, but it wasn’t always that way. According to the Smithsonian, pumpkins originated thousands of years ago and until quite recently had been as much of a staple in everyday meals as bread is today.
Now, we tend to reserve pumpkin for a few months out of the year, but it’s a great addition to any meal any time of year. Pumpkins are handy; they can be baked and pureed, canned, frozen or dried, which allows us to enjoy this tasty squash throughout the entire year. Interested in adding more pumpkin to your life? Find out how to choose, prepare and store it below.
How to choose a pumpkin. First, there are different varieties of pumpkin. How do you plan to use the pumpkin? If you want to make a Jack-O-Lantern, a larger carving pumpkin works well. These pumpkins typically do not have the taste or texture desired for making food.
Instead, if you want to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie or the variety of other foods that can be made with pumpkin, a small ‘pie’ or ‘sweet’ pumpkin is more desirable. According to Michigan State University Extension, these pumpkins are smaller, sweeter, meatier and less watery than carving pumpkins. Look for a pumpkin that has at least one to two inches of stem left. Any less, and the pumpkin will decay quicker. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots and once purchased, store in a cool, dry place. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension suggests searching for pie pumpkins that are about 2-6 pounds. One pound of pumpkin makes about 1 cup of pumpkin puree, so a 2-pound pie pumpkin will likely give you about 2 cups of pumpkin puree.
Reasons for eating pumpkin. Pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A and C as well as potassium and fiber. Pumpkins are biologically a fruit because of their seeds, but their nutritional value places them in the red and orange vegetable group. The amount varies for each person, but choosemyplate.gov suggests adults should try to eat about 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables every day. Eating pumpkin is great way to add a larger variety of vegetables to your meals.
How to prepare a pumpkin. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, there are several ways to prepare a pumpkin for eating. First, cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy part in the center of the pumpkin. If you would like, keep the seeds to roast and eat.
• To bake the pumpkin, cut it in half and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F until tender, which should take around one hour.
• To microwave the pumpkin, cut the pumpkin in half and place one half of the pumpkin cut side down on a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for about 15 minutes or until tender.
• To boil the pumpkin, cut the pumpkin into large chunks and place into a large pot with about 1 inch of water. Cover and boil for about 20 to 30 minutes until tender.
After preparing the pumpkin, it’s easy to make into a puree. Let the pumpkin cool a little and scoop the pulp out of the rind. Place the pumpkin in a food processor and blend. If you don’t have a food processor, a potato masher works well — get the kids involved by having them help with this part! Once the pumpkin is made into a puree, it can be used in recipes that call for pumpkin or it can be frozen for up to one year.
Interested in roasting pumpkin seeds? Separate the seeds from the stringy portion that was scooped from the pumpkin before you cooked it. Wash the seeds in warm water, using a colander if available. Lay the seeds out to dry; spray a baking pan with oil and set the oven to 250°F. Once the seeds have had time to dry, spread the seeds on the baking pan. Season the seeds with any seasoning you like and then bake in the preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Looking for creative uses of pumpkin this year? Try a new recipe like Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes from celebrateyourplate.org
Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (or about 2 cups)
1 box chocolate cake mix
¾ cup apple juice
½ cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
• Before you begin wash your hands, surfaces, utensils and tops of cans.
• Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease or spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
• Combine the pumpkin puree, cake mix, eggs and apple juice in large mixing bowl.
• Mix batter well. Fill muffin tin or cupcake pan 2/3 full of batter with spoon. If using walnuts, sprinkle on top.
• Bake according to package directions for cupcakes (about 20 minutes)
• Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
• Let cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove from tin and serve.
— Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.