25 October 2022

Pumpkins are a gourd like other melons, as well as cucumbers and zucchini. They are indigenous to North America and were around even before humans started cultivating beans and corn. They are planted by seed sometime between the end of May and the middle of June. They will take three to four months to mature and should be picked when they are bright orange in color (unless hybridized to another hue or a specific variety).

They are rich in carotenoids, which help produce the Vitamin A essential for healthy eyes, skin, and hair. They also improve the lungs and help with immunities.

In this country cooking with pumpkins is primarily in pies, breads, and pancakes. However, it can also be used in some savory dishes.

If you want a good choice of size, shape or color, you probably purchase your pumpkins early. In that case, there are some tricks so that they will last longer.

  • The rind should have a hard, waxy layer on the exterior. Gently press your thumbnail into the skin. If it penetrates easily, the pumpkin was harvested too early and won’t last as well.
  • Pumpkins last longer if they are kept cooler.
  • Give the exterior a light application of a spray wax, like those recommended for cars.
  • Carving will reduce the longevity.

Pumpkin seeds or pepitas are a great snack that you can readily find at your local grocery store. However, if you are carving your pumpkin, you might want to try roasting them yourself. After you have scooped out the inside, rinse well to remove the excess tissue. Spread the seeds out and allow them to dry. Then you can roast them on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Larger seeds will take a bit longer. Be sure to monitor them to prevent burning.

If you like your seeds on the salty side, soak them in a brine. The brine is only one tablespoon of salt for each cup of water. Increase the volume depending on the number of seeds. Bring the brine to a boil, add the seeds, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and toss in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Again, check about five minutes before you think they are done and don’t overbake.

Choose your pumpkin not only by size and shape but by your intended purpose. For pies go for something with a sweet, smooth flesh. Varieties that are particularly nice for carving include Howden, Connecticut Field, and Jack O’Lantern. If you are crafty and want to paint the exterior, look for something with a very smooth skin, uniform exterior, and few ribs.

If you have questions, the personnel in the produce department of your food store may not be the best source. However, if you are buying directly from the farmer at a roadside stand or outdoor market, they should be able to give you good advice.

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