By: Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH
UConn Extension Educator/Food
Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America. Early colonists learned of pumpkins from Native American Indians for whom pumpkin was a dietary staple. They would often cut strips of pumpkin and roast them on an open fire before eating. These resourceful people also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Seeds were saved for future crops. Nothing was wasted. Colonists adopted the pumpkin and used it to make stews, soups and desserts. Some say that pumpkin pie originated as colonists sliced off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled it with milk and spices and roasted it in a fire. Yum. You too can learn to make the most of this member of the winter squash family. If you grow pumpkins in your garden, you are one step ahead. If not, pick up several at you local farm stand: but, why not try getting some seeds and growing your own crop next year?
Despite a dry summer, there does not seem to be a pumpkin shortage this year. In fact, the Connecticut supply looks great—all sizes, shapes and many new varieties can be found in your local farm stand.
So, this is a good year to make sure you get the most from your pumpkin—home grown or locally purchased.
Over the years a variety of vegetables—turnips, gourds– and finally, pumpkins have been carved as “Jack-o-Lanterns.” Large pumpkins are best for carving. They are easy to carve, they don’t make the best eating, and they have many large seeds for roasting. Once Halloween is over, if your pumpkin has been carved, it is best used in the compost pile or made available to the neighborhood squirrels. Because pumpkin is a low acid vegetable, it very easily supports the growth of bacteria at room temperature or outside on a warm fall day. Even though you then cook the pumpkin, there is a risk for food-borne illness.
If not carved, you can still clean it out and use the seeds for roasting, even if the pumpkin is too large to make for good eating.
Roast the seeds
When cutting open a pumpkin, be sure to save every seed you can salvage. Put them into a large colander. The shells are edible—adding all kinds of healthy fiber to you diet. (Actually, any seeds from winter squash-acorn or butternut-can be roasted as well.)
To roast the seeds, simply clean them off, dry with paper towels, spray or stir in a little vegetable or olive oil, salt lightly and roast on a cookie sheet lined with foil for about 45 minutes (or until golden brown) at 250°F. You can also try using soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder or other seasonings you like.
Finally, eat the pumpkin
Use smaller pumpkins for meal making. These pumpkins are sweeter with finer flesh. Though often called “pie pumpkins,” pumpkins are too good to reserve for a piece of pie at the end of Thanksgiving dinner. They make great ingredients in savory soups, stews, pumpkin ravioli and gnocchi, risotto, quick breads, pancakes, or try pumpkin stuffed with rice, sausage and dried fruit.
If this talk of pumpkins for dinner is tempting you to grow your own in the spring, add it to your list when planning out our garden and ordering seeds. Pumpkin is a warm-season vegetable that grows well in Connecticut. Keep in mind that pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost.
Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween late in May or early in June. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween. For more information on growing pumpkins in the home garden, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271 as you prepare for your spring planting.