Pumpkins Around the Holidays
Pumpkin-inspired foods are a part of many holiday menus. A pumpkin's orange pulp is a great source of vitamin A, fiber, and potassium. Including pumpkin in your holiday dishes can be added fun and nutrition for the whole family.
Roasted, baked, or steamed pumpkin can be used in holiday soups, dips, pies or other baked goods. Pumpkin seeds also make a great snack so save them after carving your jack-o-lanterns. They are high in iron and unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats may help to lower cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats and trans fat in the diet.
Picking & Storing Your Pumpkin
If you'd like to try "fresh" pumpkin in your holiday recipes this year, here are some tips.
The best pumpkin for cooking is a "sugar pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin". Their flesh is sweeter and less watery than the flesh of larger pumpkins used for making jack-o-lanterns.
Pick a pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low, the pumpkin will decay quickly. Each pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin will result in about a cup pumpkin puree.
Pumpkins store well once you bring them home. They should not be refrigerated unless cut. Store them in a garage or basement, preferably a cool, dark, and dry spot where the temperature range is about 50-55 degrees. When stored this way, your pumpkins will easily last 1 or 2 months.
An Important Safety Tip: Never eat pumpkins that have been carved and used for decoration. When a pumpkin has not been refrigerated and is exposed to candle heat, it can become ideal for bacteria and mold growth and is a risk for food-borne illness.
Preparing & Cooking Pumpkins
- Cut your pumpkin in half, remove the stem, scoop out the seeds and scrape away all of the stringy mass.
- Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse the chunks in cold water. Place the chunks in a large pot with about a cup of water (the water does not need to cover the pumpkin pieces).
- Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender. Check for doneness by poking with a fork. The pumpkin should slide right off the fork prongs with little or no resistance (similar to testing boiling potatoes to see if they are cooked).
- Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander.
- When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, remove the peel using a small, sharp knife.
- Put the pumpkin pulp in a food processor and puree or use a potato masher to form a pumpkin puree.
If the directions above seem like too much work, you can always use canned pumpkin instead. There is also a difference between canned pumpkin and canned pumpkin pie filling. Check labels carefully in the store to be sure you get what you need!
Remember that pumpkin is a starchy vegetable. This means it contains carbohydrate and will raise blood sugar. But pumpkin is also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. To give you an idea of portions, 1 cup of pumpkin has about 15 grams of carbohydrate.
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