Autumn Pumpkin Alert

September 10, 2013 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Foodland Chronicles, Mediterranean, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Here in the mountain west, autumn has put her nose under the tent, and like the camel in the old story, will soon nudge herself all the way in. In our town, we blessedly haven’t had frost yet; but up on the mountainside we can see the trees and shrubs beginning to change to their colorful robes. The ten-day forecast tells me that I don’t need to be too worried about a freeze for at least a week and a half; but the heat of summer has said farewell for this year.  When the calendar flipped to September, it made me think that autumn was about to arrive. Officially the fall equinox is on September 22, 2013, but how much could it hurt to start getting ideas ready for fall cooking?

What’s more symbolic of autumn harvest and the bright colors of autumn than a nice plump pumpkin? There are some interesting reasons to consider a pumpkin for more than fodder for jack-o’-lantern carving. The first thing that I think about is the all-too-common complaint that vegetables are expensive.  If you, like me, didn’t get pumpkins planted this year, you can almost always buy them at a really low price per pound. Often, in our area, pumpkins are sold by size and if you ever calculate the price per pound, you might be pleasantly surprised to find them for as low as 25-cents and less up to 50 or 60 cents a pound. One pound of raw pumpkin, minus the peel, seeds and stem, will yield about 4 cups chopped or 2 cups mashed.  One fresh 5-pound pumpkin will yield about 4½ cups cooked, mashed pumpkin or a whole lot more. If you grow them yourself, certainly, that’s the most fun. But wander around the farmer’s market in your area, or pumpkin patch that’s second best. Of course, picking out pumpkins with children doubles the fun. What kind of stem does it have, who does it look like, is it skinny or fat of just plain funny? Let’s face it; for what you get, pumpkins are cheap, cheap, cheap.

Compare the per pound price of pumpkin with spaghetti squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, and banana squash. What a bargain! And not just within the squash category, compare it with beets, rutabagas, and other nutritious veggies. When you’re looking for the best pumpkin to roast or steam, the small sweet ones are the most excellent. Some stores or farmer’s markets call them sweet pumpkins, pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins. You can keep them in a cool dry place for quite a while; I’ve had them still at a nice quality in January or February.  But when I lived in California, one of the top pumpkin-producing states, I didn’t have a cold basement storage area – so the storage time was not too long. In that situation, I would roast them, as soon as I was done with using them as fall decorations and scoop up the flesh and freeze in recipe-ready batches.

The second issue that comes to my mind is the nutrients that come packed under that vibrant orange skin.  There’s protein and fiber, lots of vitamins, minerals (more potassium than a banana), antioxidants, and phytonutrients all for only 50 calories per cup of cooked pumpkin  (about 30 calories for one-cup raw cubed). Of course, you won’t want to forget the nutritious, but higher calorie pumpkin seeds (721 calories/cup). You can eat them for a snack, or be a pumpkin seed sprinkler (soups, salads, stir fries, tops of muffins, and quick breads, to start).

Now the biggest word to the wise, pumpkins are wonderful for much more than pies. Start experimenting with pumpkin. See my easy way of roasting pumpkins and other pumpkin info in my earlier article, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater.  If you’re making Pumpkin Curry, you can also get the roasting instructions there too. Making up some pureeing roasted pumpkin is super easy. You just put the roasted pumpkin chunks in a blender and freeze the resulting puree in one-cup portions (so you know how much you’ve got without defrosting).  Or if you already know your recipe, then make the specified size batch.

So put on your pumpkin thinking cap, or just surf the web; you’ll find a plethora of recipes including: pumpkin soup, muffins, waffles, pancakes, quick breads, cookies, and of course, holiday favorite pumpkin pie. Add pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin to chili recipes; it makes a nice thick base and delivers lots of nutrients.  Some people use pumpkin instead of beans in hummus. Offering muffins, nut bread, hummus, soups, pumpkin puree and yogurt, hummus or other dips, is a great way to get additional vegetable servings into the more vegetable reluctant. You may end up with more yummy ideas than you have pumpkin, but you can get canned pumpkin year round, so keep expanding your ideas.

Just because pumpkin is less costly, doesn’t mean you should overlook the abundance of hard winter squashes to add variety. Fall is a perfect time to choose either pumpkin or winter squash to make a series of hardy, delicious and nutritious meals.