Not only is it pumpkin flavor season….it’s real pumpkin season
By: Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD
Senior Extension Educator/Food
Pumpkin flavored lattes, candy, breads, donuts…just about everything seems to be available in the pumpkin variety at this time of year. But what if you are craving the real thing? Yes, the flavor of real pumpkin is a fall treat you should not miss.
Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America. Early colonists learned of pumpkins from Native Americans for whom pumpkin was a dietary staple. They would often cut strips of pumpkin and roast them on an open fire before eating. 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?
If you purchase your pumpkins, you might want to start thinking about stocking up for Thanksgiving pies and winter soups, stews or baking. Apparently there is a pumpkin shortage in the Midwest where much of the canned pie pumpkin is grown by the Libby’s company. Unlike the Northeast, where a dry summer has impacted the pumpkin crop, in Illinois, the country’s largest supplier of pumpkins for canning, it is the wet weather that has been the problem. So, whether you purchase your pumpkin in a can or make your pies from scratch, it might make sense to plan ahead and stock up early.
What about Halloween?
Again, to be safe, buy early! 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.
Roast the seeds
When carving the pumpkin, be sure to save every seed you can salvage. Put them into a large colander as you carve away. 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.
If you want to eat the pumpkin
Actually, pumpkins that are carved for display should NOT be eaten. 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.
So, use your 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 you want to preserve “pie pumpkin” or other edible pumpkins for later use, you have several options: freezing, canning or cold storage.
Select full-colored mature edible (not jack-o-lantern type) pumpkins. Wash, cut into cooking-size sections and remove seeds. Cook until soft in boiling water, in steam, in a pressure cooker or in an oven. Remove pulp from rind and mash. To cool, place pan containing pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally. Package in a container or bag that is moisture-vapor proof and made for use in the freezer. Leave a ½-inch headspace. You can keep pumpkin in the freezer at 0 degrees F for up to a year for good quality. Always defrost in the refrigerator.
Pumpkins can be stored at the end of the growing season for use for several months. For best results, store good quality (no mold, soft spots, cuts that are not closed), well-cured pumpkins at 50 to 55°F in a 50 to 70% relative humidity. A cool corner of a basement, a garage or in the bulkhead door area of a basement are ideal locations. Just be sure to pest-proof the area to keep them safe from rodents. Pumpkins with stems store the best.
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, canning pumpkin butter or mashed or pureed pumpkin (or squash) is NOT recommended. In 1989 when the USDA published its “Complete Guide to Home Canning”, the only directions for canning pumpkin and winter squash was for cubed flesh. In fact, the directions for preparing the product include the statement, “Caution: Do not mash or puree.” This is likely because it is difficult to standardize the consistency of pumpkin puree in the home kitchen, resulting in a product that may be too dense to safely can at home, despite using a pressure canner.
You may, however, can cubed pumpkin in a pressure canner. A pressure canner is essential as pumpkin is a low acid food that could support the growth of botulism if not canned using USDA Extension approved methods.
For more information on growing pumpkins in the home garden, contact theUConn Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271. For more information on preservation of pumpkin visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/nchfp.