Pumpkin: Beyond Halloween

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Besides being great for Halloween fun, pumpkins make wonderful eating. Just one-half cup of canned pumpkin provides 4 grams of fiber, no fat or cholesterol, and only 50 calories. Pumpkin also has more beta-carotene per serving than any other commonly eaten food. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, and it may protect against heart disease and some cancers.

Fresh pumpkins
Fresh pumpkins are available from late summer well into the fall. Small sugar or pie pumpkins are the best for eating, though you can eat the large ones, too. Be sure the pumpkins are clean and dry, then store in a cool, dry, dark place. Depending on storage conditions, pumpkins may last for several months.

To peel a pumpkin, cut the top off and then cut a thin slice off the bottom so the pumpkin sits flat. Using a large knife, cut slices of the skin off from top to bottom, working your way around the pumpkin, just like you would cut the skin off an orange or a squash. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, then cut the pumpkin into chunks.

To make pumpkin puree, steam pumpkin chunks until quite tender and drain well. Puree in a food processor or use a potato masher, then drain again through a fine sieve or coffee filter. You may also bake (325°) unpeeled, seeded pumpkin halves until tender, about 1 hour. Scoop the flesh out of the shell and puree. This puree will be drier so you won’t need to drain it. Puree may be frozen for up to six months.

Canned pumpkin
Canned pumpkin puree is easy to use and works very well in recipes. Be sure to purchase plain pumpkin and not the pie filling, which contains sugar and other ingredients. Read the label carefully to see which one you are buying.

Cooking tips
• You can substitute pumpkin for winter squash in most recipes.
• Stir pumpkin puree into soups, chilies and stews.
• Cut a fresh pumpkin into cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate, and a dash of nutmeg. Put into a baking pan coated with cooking spray and roast in a 400° oven for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.
• Make a delicious, quick pumpkin soup by heating 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin, 1 can (14.5 oz) broth, 1/2 cup water or skim milk, and 1 teaspoon mild curry powder together in a medium saucepan.
• Soften 1 pint nonfat vanilla ice cream, then fold in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 2 tablespoons sugar (or artificial sweetener), and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Refreeze, then scoop into 4 dishes to serve.
• A scooped out pumpkin makes a wonderful serving container! Bake a pumpkin (seeds removed) at 350° until tender (about 1 hour, depending on the size of the pumpkin) and then use it to serve soups, stews, grains, or whatever. Scoop out a little of the pumpkin flesh to serve with each portion, but be sure to leave enough pumpkin so that the shell won’t collapse.

Pumpkin Trivia
• The biggest pumpkin on record weighed 1140 pounds. To get that big, it grew more than a pound an hour during the month of August! See www.pumpkinnook.com.
• In 1997 there was a pumpkin boat race in Central Park Lake in New York City. A motor was attached to each of several giant pumpkins (over 700 lbs) that were steered by drivers sitting in the hollowed-out pumpkin shells.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
1 small apple, finely diced
2/3 cup apple juice
2/3 cup skim milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
2/3 cup quick oatmeal, uncooked
Combine everything but the oatmeal in a 1-1/2 quart microwave-safe dish. Bring just to boiling in the microwave (about 4 to 5 min on full power). Stir in oatmeal and heat at full power for 1 minute longer. Serves 2 or 3.
Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

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