pumpkin power

Pumpkins decorate front steps and stone walls during the fall season. But there is  so much more to this versatile orange squash than making jack-o-lanterns!

Nutritious & Delicious
Did you know that pumpkin is actually a fruit? A member of the squash family (melons, zucchinis, cucumbers), edible pumpkins are considered a fruit because they contain seeds. Harvested in the fall, pumpkins are a great source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, B6, iron and magnesium. Low in sodium and cholesterol, adding pumpkin to your meals helps support heart and vision health and improves the immune system!

It’s easy to enjoy the nutritional benefits of pumpkin’s antioxidants and fiber by adding fresh or canned pumpkin puree (not the spiced pumpkin pie filling) to vegetable soups and stews. Try delicious pumpkin lentil soup on a cold evening. A couple of years ago, I created a scrumptious recipe for a crunchy and creamy pumpkin leek soup: with sautéed leeks, pumpkin puree and coconut milk! You can add cubed fresh pumpkin to a pan of oven roasted vegetables to serve over rice or pasta. For a show-stopper side dish, serve rice and vegetables in a large baked pumpkin tureen. Lift the lid by the stem, ladle out the contents and get ready for the “oohs” and “aahs”! Don’t forget the pumpkin seeds! Packed with fiber and crunch, roasted pumpkin seeds can be sprinkled on salads or eaten as a snack.

For many of us, pumpkin spice lattes or warm pumpkin donuts spring to mind when we think of pumpkin flavors in foods and beverages. Try incorporating creamy pumpkin puree into the batter the next time you are baking muffins, loaf cakes or oatmeal cookies. You can also add pumpkin puree to brownie and chocolate chip cookie recipes. A pumpkin swirl cheesecake makes a super addition to any fall dessert table.

Pumpkin Trivia
The pumpkin is the state fruit of New Hampshire. Believed to have originated in Central America, Native Americans grew pumpkins and introduced this hearty winter squash to the early European settlers. Last year, one of the largest pumpkins ever grown in New York State was on display at the New York Botanical Garden, weighing in at 2,365 pounds!

Why Carve Pumpkins?
I was curious about the tradition of carving pumpkins. In the ancient Celtic tradition for All Hallows Eve, turnips and rutabagas were carved and placed in windows and doorways with a burning ember inside to ward off evil spirits. A second All Hallows Eve tradition was based on an Irish folktale about a miserable old man named Jack. As the story goes, Jack tricked the devil twice and was cursed to spend eternity wandering the earth carrying a carved turnip as his lantern. When Irish immigrants sailed to America in the 1800s, they brought the legend of Stingy Jack with them. To celebrate All Hallows Eve in America, they carved pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. Larger and easier to carve than turnips, pumpkins appeared even more dramatic when lit from within.

Picking Pumpkins
At this time of year, pumpkins are available for sale at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. There are pumpkin patches in Westchester where you can walk around the field to select your perfect choice for carving and decorating. Whether you are searching for the perfect round pumpkin with a curvy stem or a tall narrow shape, remember to hold your pumpkin by the bottom, not by the stem or it may break off (pumpkins are heavy!).

Decorative and delicious, pumpkins are not just for pie. More pumpkin brownies, please!

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