Welcome to Pumpkin Week! Considering the rest of the nation carved their melons EONS ago, this celebration is past due. However, being the pumpkin-love that I am, pumpkins aren’t given nearly the credit they deserve. They are more than art canvas for Halloween and tools to eat more sugar and butter at the Thanksgiving dessert table. They are delicious, nutritious and downright fun!
Let’s get this party started with a little pumpkin history, shall we?
Just to make sure we’ve covered the basics, the pumpkin is a member of the squash family – surprise! A lesser known use for pumpkins is their original purpose – to be eaten! They’re planted in June and harvested in the fall. Since they have a tougher outer shell, they can last in a cool environment for several weeks (perhaps months) after picking from the vine.
The traditional orange pumpkin is what most of us recognize, but they can also be yellow, white, or a combination of those three colors. While not as common, some pumpkin fruits are dark green, pale green, red and grey. These colored pumpkins are stunningly beautiful though. Consider swiping one if you see it, even if it’s merely for collecting dust on your front porch.
We went pumpkin picking this past weekend. This is a GREAT activity for kids of all ages. The original patch with all the varieties lined up as they were planted is gorgeous. I took some photos so ya’ll could see and strewn them throughout the post so you didn’t get lost in the words.
Nearly the entire pumpkin is edible. The only portion that is off-limits is the stem, but that’s probably a good thing. I personally haven’t come across a stem that looked appetizing anyway.
The specific edible parts of the pumpkin include the flesh, shell, seeds, leaves and flowers. Use of the leaves and flowers is prominent in China as a vegetable dish and in soups. Since most of the pumpkins we use today don’t have leaves nor flowers attached, I’ll concentrate on the other three parts this week instead.
Pumpkins are 90% water, almost as much as watermelon (92%). The flesh is rich in lutein (good for your eyes) and alpha and beta carotene (an anti-oxidant, a form of Vitamin A, required for skin health), the flesh and shell are equally edible. It may seem strange to eat the shell, but consider the yellow squash or zucchini where we eat the shells without a second thought. Just be sure to cook the shell thoroughly or you may not enjoy the bits of hard among your puree.
Add this to your high-fiber list of foods too – one pureed cup of the flesh contains 3 grams!
Inside the pumpkin we’ll find the seeds. When we carve or cut the fruit, we see white seeds. The white is a husk, covering the green seed inside (which explains why pepitas are green and not white). Pumpkin seeds (pepitas), are a surprisingly great source of protein and also boost magnesium, copper and zinc. One ounce of pepitas contains 7 grams of protein – just as much as one ounce of chicken breast!
A couple notches in the medicinal column – early research shows that the phytochemicals in pumpkin (the stuff that makes the pumpkin the color it is) could cause improvement in a diabetic condition. Good news for those who need to manage their blood glucose, and another reason for a second helping of sugar-free pie!
They’re super high in fiber too and this fiber is what grabs the toxins from our um… poop… and helps to flush them out of our bodies. This explains why way back when natural doctors were the only doctors available, the seeds were recommended as a remedy for prostate and colo-rectal health. Imagine eating food to heal our bodies… Hmmm…
If you’re not a fan of these super seeds themselves (and you’re actually TRIED them roasted, hulled, plain, salted, in salads, in muffins… otherwise, given them a REAL chance), consider planting them at the start of the summer to grow your own pumpkin crop for Autumn.
Choosing a Pumpkin
The largest pumpkin weighed in over 2000 pounds. It would take MANY ovens, not to mention knives, to cut that thing open and roast it.
When selecting a pumpkin for carving, go as big as your arms can carry. When selecting a pumpkin for baking, aim a bit lower. The six inch (or so) pumpkins come with various names – pie, sweet, baking – but they’re all for the same purpose: eating the good stuff in the middle.
You want a pumpkin that’s heavy for its size. This is somewhat hard to gauge since one person’s heavy is another person’s light, but hold a few in your hands to get a feel for the general weight and then choose a heavy one. At least that’s what I do.
If you’re picking a pumpkin now but won’t use it until later, pick one with a longer stem. Those with longer stems tend to last longer and rot slower than those that don’t have a stem at all.
How to Make Pumpkin Puree
The traditional method of making your own pumpkin puree is to roast the pumpkin in the oven. There’s a couple different options in this “traditional” method, plus some newer techniques thanks to technology.
Option A. Slice the pumpkin in half horizontally. Place on a cookie sheet flesh down and cover with aluminum foil. Roast at 350 degrees for 90 minutes, or 400 degrees for one hour. When done, remove to cool. The skin should peel off easily. Puree flesh if desired.
Option B. Place the pumpkin whole on a baking sheet and run the surface with coconut oil. Roast at 350 degrees for 90 minutes, or 400 degrees for one hour. When done, remove to cool. Cut to remove seeds and pulp from skin. Puree flesh if desired.
Option C. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and place in a crockpot. Cook for 4-6 hours, until it is fork-tender. Remove and puree flesh if desired. (The skin may be pureed as well, but I’ll leave that up to you.)
Option D. Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Cut into chunks and place into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cook on high for 10 minutes. Remove (with potholders), stir, re-cover and cook again for 10 minutes. Remove to cool and peel off skin. Puree flesh if desired.
Storage: canning vs. freezing
In the good old days, our grandmothers probably canned pumpkin puree. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Center for Home Food Preservation did some testing and released a recommendation in 1989 – don’t do it.
The reasons are fairly simple: 1) the heat created by both pressure canning and water bath methods cannot penetrate the incredibly dense pumpkin sufficiently to kill botulism spores for long-term shelf storage, and 2) even if we could get the puree hot enough to kill bacteria, the low-acid puree is still friendly to botulism spores and because the pH of pumpkin varies greatly from each gourd, there’s no basic acidification ratio available.
With shelf-storage out the window, we’re left with the fridge and freezer. Fortunately, pumpkin lasts longer than most other veggies in the fridge (up to 6 months) and can stored even longer in the freezer.
The taste of homemade puree is more squash-ish and simply put, the canned puree has a more concentrated pumpkin flavor. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but you may have to add more of the homemade version if your recipe isn’t as pumpkiny as you were hoping. Just a heads up. I blame 30+ years of eating the canned stuff. If I feed my kids the real thing now, they’ll be fortunate to never know the difference.
What about you? Have you made your own pumpkin puree?
Pumpkin Week: The Full Line-Up
Monday: About & Nutrition, Homemade Puree, Storage
Tuesday: Creamers, Green Smoothies and Flavorful Drinks
Wednesday: Organic Spics vs. Non-Organic and How-To Make Your Own
Thursday: Baking Breads, Cookies, Cakes and More
Friday: Food Wars (Homemade vs. Store-Bought) Puree, Creamer, Spices and Specialty Items