Pumpkins – Not Just for Decoration

— Written By Renay Knapp and last updated by
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With the coming of Fall, our attention turns to pumpkins. Not only are they used for decorations, but they are very nutritious and versatile when it comes to preparing them for our family and friends.

Pumpkin adds fiber to the diet and is a rich source of vitamin A. Naturally low in calories, pumpkin contains only a trace of sodium and fat and no cholesterol. We cannot say the same for pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

To select a pumpkin, keep in mind how you will use them. If you plan to make a jack-o-lantern, a large, well-shaped pumpkin will best suit your needs. Use small, heavy pumpkins, sometimes marketed as pie pumpkins, for pies and other dishes because they contain more pulp than larger jack-o-lantern varieties.

High quality pumpkins are mature and firm, with a rich, orange color. To test for maturity, press with thumbnail—mature pumpkins will resist scratching. Avoid cracked, decayed or excessively scarred pumpkins.

Store whole, mature pumpkins several months in a dry, airy location—50°F to 55°F with a relative humidity of 60 percent to 75 percent. Handle pumpkins carefully to avoid surface damage, which leads to decay and shortens shelf life. Remove pumpkins showing any signs of spoilage from storage shelves quickly. For longer storage, freeze, can or dry pumpkins for use in meals throughout the year.

Want your pumpkin to do double duty? Instead of carving a face in your Halloween pumpkin, use nontoxic paint or marker pens to create a unique face. After Halloween has passed, pierce small pumpkins several times with a sharp knife to prevent explosions and bake whole on a tray in an oven at 325°F until they pierce easily. Length of baking time depends on the size of the pumpkin. Halve larger pumpkins and bake on cookie sheets, cut side down.

When cool, quarter pumpkins and peel off the outer skin. It should come off easily like the skin from a baked potato. If not, bake a little longer. Scoop out the seeds and stringy membrane. Keep the seeds for roasting.

Mash or puree the pumpkin pulp and freeze in amounts needed for your favorite pumpkin recipes.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a terrific high energy snack. To roast: wash off strings and blot seeds dry. Toss with a small amount of vegetable oil, spread in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet and bake at 250°F for 10 minutes to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt, if desired, cool and store.

Short on time? Use your microwave oven to bake pumpkin and roast the seeds. See individual manufacturer’s directions.

You can also cook pumpkins in boiling water, steam or in a pressure cooker;  however, baking usually yields more pulp.


Pumpkin Pancakes

1/2 cup regular, uncooked oats

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup pureed pumpkin

1/3 cup low-fat or skim milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons wheat germ

1 tablespoon sugar

Combine oats and buttermilk and let stand for 15 minutes to soften. Mix eggs, oil, pumpkin and milk and blend well. Combine dry ingredients and mix with the egg mixture. Add oats and buttermilk and blend until batter is fairly smooth. Add extra milk if batter is too thick. Bake on lightly greased griddle. Makes 4 Servings


Pumpkin Potluck

1 medium-sized pumpkin

2 pounds ground beef

2/3 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained

1 10 1/2-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup

2 cups cooked rice, hot

To prepare pumpkin:  Wash it thoroughly and pat dry. On a firm surface, use a sharp knife to cut out stem, leaving about three inches around it. Cut on a diagonal by slanting knife from outer edge of pumpkin toward center. Save top of pumpkin. Scoop out seeds and stringy membrane; save seed for roasting. Replace top and begin baking on a lightly greased baking sheet at 375°F while preparing the meat mixture.

Brown ground beef over medium heat, stirring to break up. Drain off fat and stir in chopped vegetables. Cover and simmer over low heat until vegetables are tender-crisp; about ten minutes. Stir in salt, soy sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms, soup and rice. Remove pumpkin from oven and spoon mixture into prepared pumpkin. Replace top of pumpkin, return to oven and continue baking about one hour or until pumpkin is tender. To serve, spoon meat filling and cooked pumpkin onto plates. Makes  6 to 8 servings.