Pumpkins are a nutritious and tasty ingredient for sweet and savoury foods. Here is how to prepare them for cooking.
DIGBY, N.S. – Pumpkins can be used for more than Jack O’Lanterns at Halloween.
They are an inexpensive and nutritious food. They provide a range of important nutrients and are a good source of vitamin A, potassium and fibre, according to Health Canada.
But don’t eat the pumpkin that you carved into a Jack O’Lantern.
“It has been left outside, exposed to air, moisture and bugs. That leads to spoilage,” said Alyssa Millar, a professional dietitian (candidate) for the Digby/Yarmouth Superstores.
Buy pumpkins specifically for cooking, Millar recommended.
“Most recipes ask for a tin of pumpkin puree. You can make puree yourself,” she said.
Pumpkin puree is used in pies, muffins, loaves and cakes. Millar provided a quick and easy recipe for Pumpkin Spice Muffins with a Maple Cream Cheese Spread.
Choosing a pumpkin
How do you choose a high-quality ripe pumpkin? Most pumpkins at the supermarket are ripe. For quality, look for a pumpkin with an even colour and no bruising or irregular spots. Before you prepare it, wash a pumpkin, just as you would any other vegetable.
“A ripe pumpkin is fully orange and sounds hollow when tapped, said Deborah Gillis, a retired home economics teacher. “The perfect pumpkin for eating is not the same as a carving pumpkin. They are smaller, the flesh is denser, sweeter and less watery. Some are advertised as pie pumpkins.”
Gillis advises people to store pumpkins in a cool, dry and dark place such as a basement.
Gilberte Doelle, a farmer at Wild Rose Farm, grows pumpkins for her family to eat. She said the high fibre found in pumpkins is especially important for good digestion, and the vitamins help maintain good health.
“For eating, the small sugar pie pumpkin is the tastiest,” Doelle said. “That’s the one you want to get.”
Larger pumpkins used for Jack O’Lanterns are edible, Doelle said, but they are more watery.
Our ancestors ate pumpkins because they are a versatile food, like squash. Doelle’s recipe book included recipes for pumpki, and several more for squash.
“Pumpkin is a cucurbita, the same family as squash, so you can mix around the recipes”, she said.
“Pumpkins make sweet preserves. I have an old recipe for that. Preserves are really good on ice cream or yogurt.”
Pumpkin preserve recipe
- 3 cups pumpkin, chopped
- 1 cup sugar
- Stand overnight. Drain. Put the juice into a pot and boil for 15 minutes. Add pumpkins, and 2 oranges, sliced and 1 lemon sliced. Boil again for 25-30 minutes. Bottle and seal. (Recipe courtesy of Gilberte Doelle)
David Gravelle, a chef and owner of Ethnic Eats in Digby uses pumpkin, in season, in several dishes at his restaurant. “
Pumpkin stew – that’s delicious,” Gravelle said. “Chunks of pumpkin mixed with tomatoes, carrots, chickpeas and sweet potatoes, floating in a sauce flavoured with garlic, onion, and cilantro, and delicately spiced with ginger, cumin and coriander. Now that’s a meal!”
Another favourite at his restaurant is pumpkin soup.
“It’s a thick, creamy soup, rich in flavour, and perfect for lunch on a cool autumn day.”
He also serves a classic pumpkin pie, made fresh daily. He said it is usually sold out by early afternoon.
Pumpkins seeds are good too.
Pumpkins are a versatile and tasty food item. Pumpkin puree is available in the supermarkets, but it is possible to make many items from an orange pumpkin itself.
Next year, when you are carving your Jack O’Lantern, don’t just toss out the seeds.
“Make use of the pumpkin seeds by saving them after carving and roasting them to eat as a snack or use them as a salad topper to add an extra crunch,” suggested Alyssa Millar.
Other recipes using pumpkin can be found in any reputable cookbook at the library or online.