Pumpkin Zeitgeist

October 28, 2014 in Antioxidants, Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetes, fiber, Health Claims, Mediterranean, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I’m attributing my pumpkin enthusiasm to this cool autumn day and the color splashed in every direction that I gaze. Somehow bright orange pumpkins got inseparably united in my brain with the glory of autumn. Since I moved to the mountain west from my native southern California, autumn has become a big deal.

I’ve only just discovered today that I seem to suffer from some sort of pumpkin mania. I’ve noticed that I’ve written more than once about pumpkins. Two articles that you may want to review or read if you missed them in the past are: Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater and Autumn Pumpkin Alert. It’s not just their nutrients, versatility, and cost effectiveness, but sharing the joy of autumn’s harvest, got all scrambled up in my mind with the ubiquitous pumpkin. Now lest you think I’m out there by myself, I’ve done a little research and discovered that people all over the place (on the internet, that is) are writing about pumpkins and creating new, versatile and exciting ways to use them. Seriously, how many foods are low calorie, cheap, beautiful, bountiful, and incredibly nourishing? While it may be hyperbole to use a term usually applied to intellectual or cultural fashions or the emergence of an obscure but provocative idea into prominence, I see writings and recipes on the humble pumpkin popping up with great frequency and variety; I’m going to call this a Pumpkin Zeitgeist!

One of my other articles pointed out that pumpkins are technically fruit – fruit of the vine. We frequently think of them as vegetables; that probably comes from them being part of the group of foods called winter squash. But when you think of fruit, you notice that most fruit is about 80 calories per half cup; but our plump orange friends are only about 25 calories per half-cup. Compare 80 calories for the same standard half-cup volume of most other fruits to 25 for pumpkin – that’s a caloric deal.

Besides being a super low-calorie bargain, don’t forget they’re loaded with fiber; which is why they’re so great for weight management. The fiber keeps the calories down by replacing carbohydrates with zero calories; also, it slows digestion, keeping your blood sugar steady and helping you feel full longer. Pumpkin is loaded with fiber and water. This is the reason it yields so few calories.

If you look at that gorgeous orange meat, you immediately know that it’s loaded with carotenoids. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that there are literally hundreds of healthy antioxidant carotenoids. Three of this famous group are beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. All three have been identified as being in pumpkins. These nutrients are involved with numerous functions of keeping the body healthy, including retinal health, cataract and macular degeneration prevention; a healthy immune system; possibly even lowering the risk of some cancers, including prostate and lung cancer. On top of these benefits, it provides protection from the sun’s wrinkle-causing UV rays. Pumpkin appears to reduce blood glucose and possibly increases the amount of insulin the body produces. We’d expect that a food so high in water, nutrients and fiber would be a wonderful choice for those with diabetes, but, in addition, something special seems to be going on with pumpkin, that actually increases insulin secretion. We’ll have to wait for the research to catch up before we know exactly what’s involved; meanwhile, find a space in your menus to include pumpkin.

While pumpkin is a delicious and versatile whole food, and can not be characterized by a few important nutrients it possess; pumpkin is not only an excellent source of carotenoids, but also rich in potassium, B vitamins, vitamins E and C and a number of minerals. They’re truly nutritional superstars.

If you’re still thinking of pumpkins only as pie, cheesecake, pudding and ice cream, I’d like to encourage you to not only enjoy the pumpkin desserts, when you have dessert, but add some of the vast array of pumpkin recipes for the main meal. There are a great many of them, and they can enlarge our recipe horizons. This is, of course, the pumpkin Zeitgeist that I wrote about above. Can you believe it? Pumpkin is equally at home paired with savory ingredients like sage, garlic, rosemary, crushed red pepper, cumin, cayenne and curry; as it is with cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger in a dessert, breakfast cake or muffin.

If plunking down a big dish of roasted buttered pumpkin in the middle of the table is unlikely to make it into the mouth of your vegetable-reluctant friend or family member, then you may want to consider some of the following recipe sites: 50 Canned Pumpkin Recipes. (This site is filled with creative ideas for pumpkin, well beyond soups, stews, and stir-fries.) If you end up with more yummy ideas than you have pumpkin, no fret, you just use canned pumpkin or frozen roasted pumpkin year round; so no need to limit your growing recipe collection. Another super wonderful collection is: How to Cook with Fresh Pumpkin.

I’ve made many different recipes including: muffins, cookies, bars, cakes, pies, soups, stir-fries, oatmeal, quick breads and casseroles with pumpkin, but the listed recipes above have some really innovative offerings. I’m especially excited to try number 26 – vinaigrette. Also I’m intrigued with using pumpkin puree mixed into mashed potatoes. We don’t eat mashed potatoes often, but that’s really a nutritious way to add a golden hue to plain russets. Keep in mind, that you can really ratchet up the nutrition and ratchet down the calorie density of many recipes by adding a little pumpkin.

Don’t just assign our plump orange superstars of autumn to be used only as Jack-o’-Lanterns; this year make a commitment to try at least one new recipe using pumpkins. Here I’m not thinking of a 380-calorie cup of pumpkin-spice latte; unless, of course, it’s a once a blue moon treat.

Look at my old articles (see links above) if you want more ideas about the benefits of price, yield, and different ways to use pumpkin. You can read about my lazy way of preparing fresh pumpkin in Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater – the hole punching is the most important issue in roasting whole. Unfortunately, with whole roasting, you don’t get to use the seeds for a garnish or snack; but it is surely easier than cutting really hard pumpkins. If you enjoy the seeds, you can cut the top off, scoop out the seeds and replace the lid and continue to roast. A little oil and a dash of salt and you have delicious roasted seeds that can be sprinkled on soups, salads, stir-fries, or eaten plain as a snack.

Of course, if you’re striving to move toward a Mediterranean-style of eating, pumpkin is perfect. It doesn’t make a speck of difference how you think of it – fruit or vegetable; just think of it as a versatile whole food to have on hand. When I roast a whole pumpkin, I fill quart freezer zip bags or freezer containers with the roasted pumpkin meat and have it on hand for recipes all year long.

Just because pumpkin is less costly, doesn’t mean you should overlook the abundance of other hard winter squash to add variety. Fall is a perfect time to choose either pumpkin or other varieties of winter squash to make a series of hardy, delicious and nutritious meals. Keep looking through the pages of pumpkin recipes and articles listed in a Google search; you’ll probably agree with me that there’s definitely a Pumpkin Zeitgeist going on.

Even squirrels know that Autumn is a great time for veggies - the squirrels took all the miniature pumpkins out of my entry display.