Pumpkin is the quintessential food of fall, isn’t it? This time of year, every other pin on Pinterest boasts of the next best pumpkin recipe. Every drive-thru advertises some pumpkin-flavored concoction (don’t be fooled, there’s likely little-to-no pumpkin in there…). And of course the front of every grocery store is overflowing with giant pumpkins grown so large that they are no longer suitable for eating, but they make great fall decorations!
I was never a huge fan of anything made with pumpkin until I discovered that the taste of fresh pumpkin was not the same as what comes in a can. In fact, canned pumpkin is often not pumpkin at all, but whatever other squash happens to have orange flesh and a desirable texture and sweetness. In addition to variations in which type of squash is canned, canned “pumpkin” goes through a lot of processing to achieve a uniform moisture content, losing many of the nutrients fresh pumpkin offers. Fresh pumpkin is not available year round, but if you stock up in season, it is easy to store enough to use throughout the year. Who said you had to wait until the leaves turn colors to add pumpkin to every recipe under the sun?
nutritional profile of pumpkin.
Like many other orange-colored foods, pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A and antioxidants in the form of beta carotene to help protect the body from disease – 170% of the RDA in just 100 g! Pumpkin also provides a significant amount of vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, phosphorus, and iron. The nutrition facts displayed here are for 100 g of raw pumpkin (nutrient info. from the USDA nutrient database).
There are many varieties of pumpkins. Choose pumpkins that are free of cuts and soft spots. The smaller the pumpkin the more likely it has a smooth texture and slightly sweet flavor. If you can find them, “small sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins” are an ideal size and have a nice smooth, mellow flavor.
As a winter squash with hard, thick skin, pumpkins can be stored for months in a cool, dry, dark place (or in the refrigerator) as long as the stem has not been removed and the pumpkin is otherwise undamaged. However, because of their large size and the fact that I rarely use pumpkin without first pureeing it, I mostly roast, puree, and freeze in 2 cup portions for easy use later.
Preparation method is certainly dependent on your intended use, but the easiest and most nutritious way to prepare a pumpkin is to roast it whole. Simply wash the outside of the pumpkin, pierce it with a sharp knife in 4 or 5 places around the top (air vents so it doesn’t explode in your oven!), and roast in a baking dish at 375F.
The time it takes will vary depending on the size of the pumpkin, but plan on about 45 minutes for a “pumpkin pie” pumpkin (6-7 pounds, yielding about 6 cups of pumpkin puree). When the pumpkin is easily pierced through with a fork, it is ready.
Cut the pumpkin in half through the stem, being careful to avoid escaping steam, scoop out the seeds and strings, scoop flesh away from the peel, and use as desired.