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I don’t know about you, but I don’t give pumpkin much thought until Fall each year.  This is when they start to show up for sale at the grocery store.  Also this time of year we start seeing “Pumpkin Spice” flavored everything.  I do enjoy pumpkin foods, especially pie, cake, and of course, a tasty pumpkin spice latte, but I figured there’s got to be more food options for pumpkin–and hopefully more healthy ones!  Turns out, pumpkin can be pretty deliciously versatile.

HISTORY (BECAUSE IT’S INTERESTING)

Historians and archeologists tell us that pumpkins originated in early America.  They looked a little different back then, they were more of a crook-neck shape, kind of like some of their squash cousins.  Native Americans ate pumpkin way before European settlers discovered them.  They cooked them (boiled, roasted, baked), dried them (and made pumpkin flour), and even used their seeds as medicine.  The hearty flesh of pumpkins kept well during storage, so it held them over through the cold winter months.  They used the dried shells as bowls and dried strips of the flesh and wove them into mats.  Talk about minimizing waste–they really knew how to do that!

Of course, we can’t have a complete history of pumpkins without talking about Jack-O-Lanterns. Hollowing out turnips, carving faces in them, and lighting them like a lantern was a tradition in 18th century Ireland.  Some used these to keep harmful spirits away, and some put them out to scare people.  In North America, this tradition carried over to using pumpkins for the scary lanterns.  I’ve never carved up a turnip, but I imagine carving a pumpkin is much easier!

NEAT FACTS ABOUT PUMPKINS

  • Pumpkins contain seeds and are technically a fruit, but often referred to or treated as a vegetable for cooking.
  • Pumpkins are in the gourd family, along with cucumbers, zuchini, squash, and melons.
  • Pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning large melon.
  • Pumpkins are usually orange, but can also be green, white, yellow, or red.
  • Bees are very important in the pollination  of pumpkins, as pumpkins have both male and female flowers.
  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  • Each pumpkin contains about 500 seeds.
  • Pumpkins are about 90% water.
  • Guinness World Records documented the world’s largest pumpkin was 2,323 pounds! Grown in Germany in 2014.

 

PUMPKIN NUTRITION — FIBER AND VITAMINS!

Raw, cooked, and canned pumpkin have nutritious benefits.  Some of it’s finest features are low calories, very low sodium, very high Vitamin A content, and healthy amounts of dietary fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C.  The cooking and canning processes gets rid of some of the water in the flesh and concentrates the nutrients.  Here are the highlights of what you can get from the orange fruit.

Per 1 cup Raw Cooked Canned
Calories 30 49 83
Vitamin A 9,875 IU (198%) 14,100 IU (282%) 32,129 IU 763%)
Sodium 0 mg (0%) 2 mg (0.08%) 12 mg (0.5%)
Dietary Fiber 0.6 g (2%) 2.7 g (11%) 7.1 g (28%)
Potassium 394 mg (13%) 564 mg (16%) 505 mg (14%)
Vitamin C 10.4 mg (17%) 11.5 mg (19%) 10.3 mg (17%)

Data source: USDA Food Composition Databases

 

WAYS TO EAT PUMPKIN

Raw

So, I didn’t know until recently, that people eat pumpkin raw.  It’s a thing. A seasonal thing in most areas, as pumpkins are harvested in the fall. Although they do keep for up to a few months when stored very carefully, most homes are too warm to keep them for more than a couple of weeks.

Many who eat raw pumpkin prefer to just cut it in chunks and eat it plain or with a little salt, or maybe cinnamon for a “dessert” taste.  I have seen some raw pumpkin recipes out there on the web–most call for grating, blending, or pureeing it to get rid of the stringy texture.  Raw pumpkin can be made into smoothies, raw granola-type cookies, pie, and parfaits.  Rawmazing.com and TheRawtarian.com have some good-looking recipes for raw pumpkin dishes.

If you are going to consume raw pumpkin, wash the skin well before cutting into it so that soil and bacteria does not transfer to the fruit you are going to eat. FDA provides guidance for preparing produce.

Cooked

There are many more recipes out there for cooked or canned pumpkin.  Most people are more familiar with eating it this way.  Cooked or canned pumpkin puree has a creamy texture, and adds a nice heartiness to a dish. The mild, distinctive flavor of pumpkin blend well with so many spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves.  It’s actually kind of bland, which allows it to be paired with and accented by other ingredients, creating unique fare.   The slight hint of sweetness of the pumpkin flesh lends itself naturally to being sweetened further in desserts and brings a balance to savory dishes.

Using canned pumpkin certainly is a time saver over roasting a raw pumpkin.  You also get more consistency with the flavors, texture, and amount of moisture.  And, the only ingredient in the can is cooked, pureed pumpkin, so there’s nothing hidden or added.  Just watch out and don’t get pumpkin pie filling–unless of course you want the yummy, spiced-up pumpkin for a specific recipe.

I’ve not made too many things with pumpkin–pie, cake, bread. But I’m going to.  Pinterest has some really great-looking recipes.  Sweet, light, savory, sinful.  Here are some I’m going to try.  I’ll update this post and let you know how it goes.

  1. Pumpkin Maple Cornbread (Oil Free, Dairy Free, Vegan) from VeggieInspiredJourney.com
  2. Creamy Pumpkin and Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes from CookingForKeeps.com
  3. Pumpkin Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese from LifeMadeSweeter.com
  4. Pumpkin Hummus from HighHeelsandGrills.com
  5. 30 Minute Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls from TheNoviceChefBlog.com

What’s your favorite pumpkin recipe?  Is there one you want to try?

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