I love pumpkins! To me, they symbolize fall and the coming of cool weather.
Not only do I enjoy looking at pumpkins, I also love to eat them. My grandmother could make the best pumpkin pie in the South; my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Pumpkins are also fun — just ask any kid who has ever made a jack-o’-lantern.
Pumpkin technically belongs to the squash family, but performs so beautifully as pie filling it is often considered a fruit.
It is also a good main course vegetable and an ingredient in soup, quick breads, cookies, cakes and pudding. It is an excellent source of many nutrients including vitamin A, iron, potassium, vitamin C and others. It is low in calories, sodium and fat.
Historically, pumpkin seeds have been used medicinally: American Indians chewed them to ward off kidney infections and parasites, and they were an official drug in the 19th century as a diuretic.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in phosphorus, iron and some B vitamins — including niacin — and contain 30 percent protein and 40 percent unsaturated fat.
They can be purchased raw or roasted, or you can prepare them yourself.
They are a great snack and the kernels make a crunchy complement to cooked dishes and salads.
Harvesting and storing
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are orange in color and the skin is hard, anytime before frost. The rind should not be easily penetrated by a thumbnail.
Smaller varieties of pumpkins are best for storage and cooking.
They store best when part of the stem is left on and carefully handled. By storing at about 55 degrees in a dry place they have a two- to three-month storage life.
Prepared pumpkin pulp may be frozen, canned and even dried for future use. Pumpkin must be canned in a pressure canner as cubes, not mashed or pureed.
A 5-pound pumpkin will yield about 4 1/2 cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin. About 2 cups of cooked pumpkin is required for a 9-inch pie.
Roasting pumpkin seeds
Rinse two cups pumpkin seeds until pulp and strings are detached. Boil seeds for 10 minutes in 6 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of salt added. Drain and dry seeds on paper towels. In a bowl add 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and 3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine. Add pumpkin seeds and stir well. Spread on baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or until seeds are light brown. Seeds should be crisp when fully roasted.
Preparing cooked pumpkin
An easy way to prepare pumpkin for recipes calling for cooked pumpkin is to cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and cook the halves face down in a conventional or microwave oven until pulp is tender (about an hour in a 350 degree oven, or six to seven minutes per pound in the microwave).
After the cooked pulp is scooped out of the shell it may be mashed or put through a mill or strainer. It is then ready to be used in a recipe or frozen for later use.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension Service. Contact: 770-535-8290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.