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Be a pumpkin eater

November 16, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Dictionaries and encyclopedias describe pumpkin as a large, roundish, orange-yellow fruit of a trailing vine of the gourd family that matures in early autumn and is used for human and animal feed.

Pumpkins have a hard outer shell/rind and are cooked to be edible for humans. Sizes of pumpkins vary from only a few inches across to more than 5 feet in diameter and can weigh in at more than 1,000 pounds.

cont. from lifestyle

Pumpkin eaters tend to be seasonal since the pumpkin supply is greater in the fall. Though we eat more pumpkin in the fall and winter, we can consider it year-round, as it can be preserved by canning, freezing and drying and is available in the market year-round, mostly in canned form.

Not only tasty, pumpkin has other added benefits of nutrition for pumpkin eaters. Besides being an excellent source of vitamin A, pumpkins and most other squash are surprisingly low in calories -if added fat and sugar are kept to a minimum. One-half cup of cooked pumpkin or winter squash contains only 40 calories. These hearty vegetables also are excellent sources of dietary fiber and potassium.

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When selecting pumpkins for cooking, choose relatively small ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks and seem heavy in relation to their size. Store in a cool place until ready to use.

Winter squash is the hard-shelled cousin of the zucchini and summer squash. The large number of varieties available often derive their names from the shape, color or structure of the squash, such as acorn, butternut, buttercup, turban and spaghetti squash. Select whole squash as you do baking pumpkins. Choose ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks and seem heavy for their size.

Easy preparation

If your recipe calls for pureed pumpkin or squash, the easiest way to prepare it - other than opening up a can - is to cut the pumpkin or squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and cook cut-side down in a conventional or microwave oven until the pulp is tender. A microwave oven reduces cooking time from nearly an hour to six or seven minutes per pound. Small pumpkins and acorn squash can be microwaved whole, with just a few pierced holes for steam to escape. After microwaving, let the pumpkin or squash stand five minutes to allow the heat within the squash to equalize before pureeing or serving. A five-pound pumpkin should yield about 4 1/2 half cups of cooked pulp. Puree in a blender or food processor for a smoother product. Smaller pumpkins will be less stringy.

Pumpkin, a fun product to use for Halloween and also a long- time tradition at Thanksgiving, is much more than pie and jack-o'-lanterns. Americans often limit their use of pumpkin to pies, breads and desserts calling for pureed pumpkin. This is not the case in other parts of the world. For example, Latin American cooks consider pumpkin a standard vegetable to be used as a side dish and in casseroles.

In fact, pumpkin can be substituted for winter squash or sweet potatoes in most recipes.

Pies are just one way to use pureed pumpkin and squash. They're also delicious in chilled or hot soups, or in place of mashed potatoes in a shepherd's pie. Baked pumpkin and squash halves are attractive and tasty when stuffed with meat, rice and vegetable mixtures. And, if you're tired of standard vegetable fare, try sauting or stir-frying strips of fresh pumpkin or squash.

Finally, for a different, tasty treat this holiday season, try adding grated, raw pumpkin to stuffing for chicken or turkey.

Be a pumpkin eater! Pumpkin is a versatile, nutritious, year-round product.

Pumpkin Stew

  • 1 fresh, whole pumpkin, 10 to 12 pounds
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons instant beef bouillon granules
  • 14 1/2-ounce can tomatoes, undrained, cut up


In a large pan or Dutch oven, brown meat in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add vegetables, water and seasonings. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Stir in bouillon and tomatoes. Wash pumpkin. Cut a 6- to 8-inch circle around top stem. Remove top and set aside; remove seeds and loose fibers from inside. Place pumpkin in a sturdy, shallow baking pan. Pour stew into pumpkin and replace top. Brush outside of pumpkin with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours or just until pumpkin is tender (do not overbake). Serve stew from pumpkin, scooping out a little pumpkin with each serving. Serves 8 to 10.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.


Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.
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