A pumpkin is a type of squash whose fruit arrives in the fall as opposed to the summer like zucchini. That’s why pumpkins are associated with fall holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween. Interestingly, the ghoulishly grinning jack-o-lantern wasn’t always always a pumpkin, but used to be a turnip.
Pumpkins are believed to have their origins in North America. People have probably been eating them for at least 7,000 years.
Pumpkins, like all squash, is a pretty versatile food. The meat can be pureed and used as pie filling or can be roasted or baked. It can be mashed like potatoes and used in soup and ice cream. Some people even like pumpkin juice. The seeds are highly nutritious and are called pepitas. They are high in magnesium, zinc, copper and protein. Even the pumpkin flowers can be eaten. As with other squash plants, people should only eat the male flowers since the female flowers ripen into the fruit. The flowers can be stuffed with ricotta cheese, dipped in batter and fried for a delicious appetizer. Smaller pumpkins have a better flavor than those great big ones that win prizes at county fairs.
The bright orange color of the pumpkin says much about its nutritional content. It’s high in beta carotene, and 100 grams of pumpkin provides 29 percent of the recommended daily allowance of this substance, which the body readily turns into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, which gives protection against damaging free radical molecules. It’s necessary for the repair of bodily tissues and mucous membranes and is important for the vitality of the skin. Pumpkins are also pleasingly low in fat with only .1 gram per 100, but they have 21 mg of calcium, 12 mg of magnesium, 44 mg of phosphorus and 340mg of potassium.
Shoppers can buy a pumpkin in the store or go to a pumpkin patch and pick their own. (Some people with generous yards grow their own, of course.) Pumpkins should be picked when they’re full sized and ripe. They shouldn’t have any soft spots. They also shouldn’t be exposed to the frost, which will injure them and lessen their shelf-life. The stem should be kept on when the pumpkin is harvested, because that will help the pumpkin last longer.
Pumpkins, like root vegetables, can be stored in a cold part of root cellar, but they should be used quickly since they only last a couple of months. Or, the buyer can cook them and freeze them.
I know I love to use my pumpkin in a pumpkin caramel cheesecake (pictured above) [recipe].
How do you like your pumpkin? Share in the comments below!