Pumpkin

Long a symbol of harvest and Halloween, beta-carotene packed pumpkins are synonymous with autumn in Canada.

Pumpkin

Nutrition Notes

The flesh of a pumpkin is a good source of fibre, vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and phosphorus.  Like other orange-colored vegetables and fruits, pumpkins are very high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.

Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially night vision. The nutrient is also essential for the maintenance of healthy skin, teeth and mucous membranes, your boy's first line of defence from invading organisms. One-half cup serving (125 ml) of cooked pumpkin provides more than one-quarter of your day's worth of vitamin A.

Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are an excellent source of protein, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc. Pumpkin seeds may also help treat anxiety disorders because they're highly concentrated an amino acid called tryptophan. 

One-quarter of a cup of pumpkin seeds provides 9 grams of protein, 2.5 milligrams of iron and 2.3 milligrams of zinc, not to mention plenty of potassium.

Pumpkin seed oil is composed of over 60% heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids. It's derived from a specific breed of pumpkin called the Styrian pumpkin.

Here's the nutrient breakdown for one-half cup serving (125 ml) of cooked pumpkin:

Calories 

 26 kcal
 Fat  0.09 g
 Protein  0.93 g
 Carbohydrate  6.34 g
 Fibre  1.4 g
 Calcium  19 mg
 Iron  0.74 mg
 Magnesium  12 mg
 Phosphorus  39 mg
 Potassium  298 mg
 Beta carotene  2713 mcg
 Folate  12 mcg
 Vitamin C 6.1 mg 

Varieties

Pumpkins are part of the winter squash family, known as the Cucurbita or gourd family. (Other members of this family include cucumbers, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, watermelons and zucchini.)

There are three basic species of pumpkins: Cucurbita Moschata, Cucurbita Pepo, and Cucurbita Maxima.

Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are usually of the C. Pepo species. Also called field pumpkins, they're rounder than the C. Moschata variety and range in size from miniature decorative pumpkins to gigantic field pumpkins that can weight up to 450 kilograms. Larger pumpkins are great for carving but lack flavor due to their high water content.

C. Moschata and C. Maxima pumpkins are most frequently used for pie fillings. C. Moschata varieties are often processed into canned pumpkin that can be used for pie fillings and other baked goods, while C. Maxima pumpkins can be used fresh from the market. These pumpkins range in colour from dark green, light orange to tan and have an oblong shape.

Buying

In Canada, you can buy pie pumpkins and mini pumpkins during the first part of August. Jack-O-lantern pumpkins take a little longer to ripen and are available in stores late August through October.

If you're buying a pumpkin for cooking, choose one that is heavy for its size. A light weight pumpkin has less water and probably has a big open space in the middle. In general, choose a pumpkin that weighs less than 2.5 pounds. Anything larger will have high water content and lack taste.

A soft skin is also a sign of high water content; choose a pumpkin that has a firm skin with no signs of mold or decay.

Storing

Pumpkins can be stored for up to six months in a cool, dry place. The ideal storage temperature is 10-15 C. To prevent mold or decay, keep it away from extreme heat or extreme cold. Place some newspaper under the pumpkin, in case it cracks.

Pumpkins don't have to be refrigerated until they are cut. Once cut, pumpkin will mold quickly so cover the pieces with plastic wrap, put them in the fridge and use within one or two days.

You can also freeze uncooked pieces of pumpkin for up to 4 months.

Cooked pumpkin can be refrigerated and used within 4 to 5 days.

Preparing

All parts of the pumpkin, except the skin, are edible. Getting through the tough, thick skin is often the hardest part of cooking a pumpkin. However, depending on how you want to eat the pumpkin, it may not be necessary to remove the skin.

For pumpkin puree, a pumpkin that weighs less than 2.5 pounds can be roasted in the oven, without so much as cutting it in half. First, wash off any dirt on the rind and poke a few holes in it. Then, put it on a baking sheet and roast it at 350 F (175 C) for about an hour, or until you can easily stick a knife through the skin.

When the pumpkin cools, you can cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers. The tender flesh can then be scooped out and used in baking and cooking recipes.

For pumpkin pieces, use the same method but half the roasting time. A large, long-handled knife works best for cutting the pumpkin into small pieces after it has been roasted and cooled. The skin will be softer and easier to cut but the flesh will be firm enough to use in soups, stir-fries or sautéing.

To roast pumpkin seeds, scoop them out of a halved raw pumpkin and rinse off any clingy pumpkin fibers. Let them dry on paper towels. Then sprinkle with oil, lightly salt, and slowly roast in a 250 F (120 C) oven for 45-60 minutes.

Eating

Healthy Ways to Enjoy

At Breakfast:

  • Add pumpkin puree and a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg to your favorite muffin or bread recipe.
  • Sprinkle roasted pumpkin seeds over a bowl of hot oatmeal or muesli.
  • Top off a cup of yogurt with roasted pumpkin seeds and your favorite granola.
  • Make pumpkin pancakes by adding one-half cup (125 ml) of pureed pumpkin and a dash of pumpkin spice (a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice) to a ready made pancake mix.

At Lunch:

  • Add frozen cubes of pureed pumpkin to your favorite ready-to-eat soups, stews or casseroles. (After roasting freeze pumpkin puree in ice cube trays.)
  • Sprinkle roasted pumpkin seeds over a green salad or bowl of vegetable soup.

At Dinner:

  • Mash cooked pumpkin and top with cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup for a sweet alternative to mashed potatoes.
  • Sauté shredded pumpkin with olive oil, garlic and a pinch of salt for a tasty side dish.
  • Enjoy pureed pumpkin as a side dish topped with honey, ginger and chives or jalapeno peppers.
  • Use pumpkin instead of squash in your butternut squash soup recipe.

At Snacks and Dessert:

  • Enjoy a handful of homemade trail mix made with roasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and your choice of dried fruit and mixed nuts.
  • Snack on fresh fruit with a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds as an afternoon snack.
  • Enjoy a slice of homemde pumpkin pie.
  • Add one-half cup of pureed pumpkin to your favourite ginger cookie recipe.
  • Enjoy a slice pumpkin cheesecake on special occasions or as a holiday dessert.

More Information

Did you know?

  • The largest pumpkin on record weighs 1,502 pounds and was grown by Nicholas Kuzmiak of Paletine, Illinois.
  • To get a rough estimate of the number of seeds in a pumpkin, multiply the number of fruiting sections in a field pumpkin by 16.