When most people think of fall, they may think of cooler weather and fall decorations, including pumpkins. The word pumpkin makes one think of jack-o-lanterns or pumpkin pie. But pumpkins offer so much more!
Fresh pumpkin can be substituted in recipes that call for winter squash or sweet potatoes as well.
Choose small, immature pumpkins for the most flavorful dishes. Pumpkins which are smaller in size are more tender and less stringy than the larger variety. Although they can range in weight from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds, I would suggest selecting one between 5 and 8 pounds if you are going to use it for cooking purposes.
When purchasing a pumpkin, look for one that feels heavy for its size. It should also have a stem of 1 to 2 inches. If the stem is cut too low, the pumpkin will decay quickly or may be decaying at the time of purchase. Avoid those with blemishes and soft spots as well.
While most pumpkins are orange, they also come in white, blue, yellow and other colors. The bright orange color of a pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it is loaded with an important antioxidant — beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health.
Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease, while offering protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.
Pumpkins are 90 percent water. Although many use them as a vegetable, they are a fruit from a botanist perspective, because it's a product of the seed-bearing structure of flowering plants. They are more savoy than sweet from a culinary perspective, so many categorize them as a vegetable. Pumpkins are versatile and can be substituted for winter squash or sweet potato in many recipes and are used to make soups, pies and breads.
Pumpkins are low in calories, fat and sodium and are high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron. One cup of pumpkin can give you 200% of your recommended daily vitamin A intake. Plus, as an added benefit, the pumpkin seeds, which provide protein and iron, make a great snack or lunch box item.
In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when American colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
Even though we no longer bake our pumpkin in hot ashes, it is possible to use your pumpkin in more ways than just pie or jack-o-lantern.
Pumpkin can be diced into chunks, steamed as vegetables, spiced with nutmeg to enhance the flavor and served as a side dish. They can also be mixed with a variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and rhubarb. They are also great combined with grains to create a delicious casserole.
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.
Pumpkin Praline Cake is a great way to use your pumpkin. You can use 1 can pumpkin puree in place of fresh pumpkin. Make sure it is pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling, as they are different. Pumpkin puree is pure pumpkin that has been cooked down and pureed with no spices added. Pumpkin pie filling has spices traditionally found in pumpkin pie, cloves, cinnamon, allspice and/or nutmeg.
Pumpkin Praline Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 can (16 ounces) pumpkin puree or 2 cups fresh cooked pumpkin, mashed
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 half teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chopped pecans
1 stick margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
Combine first eight ingredients in order given. Add one egg at a time, beating a full minute between each addition. Pour one fourth of the batter into a greased tube pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or greased with flour and shortening. In small bowl, combine nuts, butter and sugar; mix well. Place on top of batter in pan; carefully pour remaining batter over top of nut mixture. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack to cool.
Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.