Fall is my favorite time of year. Crisp weather, warm sweaters, scarves and boots. Naturally, as the temperatures cool, my kitchen begins to heat up with warm, comforting foods. And, one of my favorite fall crops to grace my kitchen is the pumpkin.
Many people only think of pumpkins when they are harvested for the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie or around Halloween to be carved to ward off evil spirits. But, pumpkins are so much more. In terms of nutrition and every day healthy cooking, there is nothing to be afraid of.
Pumpkins belong to the family of vegetables known as Cucurbitaceae that also includes cucumbers and melons. Called pepon by the Greek or “large melon,” the pumpkin is no ordinary gourd – it has become a staple, a widely-known symbol of fall family traditions in America.
Pumpkins are naturally fat free and when baked, steamed and canned, have a smooth creamy texture which makes them perfect for creating rich-tasting meals that also happen to be healthy.
There is so much more to these fall beauties, so let’s talk pumpkins in the kitchen.
Types of Pumpkins to Use
- Pumpkins that you buy for Jack-O-Lanterns are typically not your best choice for cooking: they tend to be too watery and stringy.
- Recommended varieties include Baby Bear, Baby Pam, Orange Smoothie, Hijinks, Sugar Pie and Mystic Plus.
- Sugar pumpkins of medium size (8-10 inch diameter or approximately 4 lbs.) will produce about 1 ½ cups of pumpkin puree.
- Wash pumpkins well with warm water and a vegetable brush, paying close attention to creases and around stem area.
- Using a serrated knife makes cutting pumpkins safer and easier.
- Microwaving the pumpkin for 2-3 minutes makes cutting easier.
- Cut the pumpkin open and remove seeds and strings.
- Seeds can be saved to bake for snacks or salad toppings. Did you know that you will find about a cup of seed in an average pumpkin? And that those seeds are a great source of protein and fiber?
Making Pumpkin Puree for Use in Recipes
There are many ways to cook the pumpkin for making puree:
- Baking: Cut in half. Put cut side down in baking dish. Cover and bake @ 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender.
- Boiling: Peel pumpkin and cut into chunks. Cover with water and boil over medium heat until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain water.
- Steaming: Peel pumpkin and cut into chunks. Fill steamer with water to level just below pumpkin. Steam until tender (about 10 minutes).
- Pressure Cooking: Peel pumpkin and cut into chunks. Add water to pressure cooker just to bottom of grid. Pressure cook for 10 minutes.
- Microwave: Cut pumpkin in half. Microwave at high power for about 7 minutes per pound or until tender.
After cooking the pumpkin, remove pulp from the skin and puree to use for recipes. I find it best to use a food processor, but a blender, food mill, or an old fashion potato masher will work too. If your puree is too watery, drain it through a cheesecloth.
- For whole pumpkins not used immediately, store in a cool place at 50 to 65 degrees.
- Pumpkin puree can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Pumpkin puree can be kept in the freezer in a sealed container for up to six months. Freezing pumpkin puree in one cup portions makes recipe prep easier.
Halloween is over and we have a surplus of pumpkins left in Arkansas. So, grab some of these orange beauties and let’s get to warming up your kitchen with the smells and tastes of fall.
Stephanie, aka The Park Wife, is a tribe builder. She is the founder of Arkansas Women Bloggers (ARWB), an online community designed to gather, grow, and connect social media influencers in our state. Considered an old-timer in the blog world, since 2005 she has written what she hopes is a love letter to her children on her lifestyle blog, The Park Wife. Raised in the debutante world of Mississippi, she married a hunky park ranger and moved to Arkansas 15 years ago and has fallen in love with the state. She loves gardening, porch swings, a beautifully set table, a delicious meal surrounded by great conversations, their cabin in the woods and monograming everything that is not nailed down. She is a devoted wife and fun-loving, homeschool mom to two extraordinarily cool little gentlemen and is fortunate enough to live on one of Arkansas’s premier state parks.