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Easy as pumpkin pie

November 03, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Pumpkin's not just for jack-o'-lanterns and pie anymore.

There are a lot of options for the fall holiday fruit - breads, muffins and soups among them.

A pumpkin, relieved of its seeds and stringy, slimy goo, can serve as a seasonal soup bowl or even a cooking container. Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County, has seen a recipe in which beef stew is baked inside pumpkins.

The orange fruit is a good source of nutrition. A cup of canned pumpkin has just 83 calories, is high in fiber, relatively low in fat, high in vitamin A and contains vitamins C and E as well as copper and magnesium, said Little, who writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail.

Pumpkins carved as jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween aren't good cooking options because their safety can't be guaranteed after surfaces have been exposed. Also, Little added, 99 percent of pumpkins grown to become jack-o'-lanterns are too stringy to eat.

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A pumpkin for cooking needs to be of manageable size, Little said. Not too big.

She offered three methods for getting the pumpkin from the orange-globe to a pie-able state or to the consistency needed for cakes or cookies. Wash hands before handling and wash the pumpkin before cutting. Cut off a lid, scoop out seeds and stringy innards. If you don't want to boil it, try one of the following:

· Cut into chunks and rinse. Place chunks in a large saucepan with a cup of water. Don't immerse. Steaming will take about 10 minutes.

· To cook pumpkin in an oven, cut in halves instead of chunks and place cut side down on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for at least an hour.

· To microwave, cut in halves, place cut side down on a microwave-safe plate and cook on high for 15 minutes. Check for doneness, and increase cooking time in 1- to 2-minute intervals as needed.

Cooking times - for all methods - might vary. The goal is fork-tender pumpkin, Little said. The broth - pumpkin-flavored water from boiling or steaming - can be used in soups, Little said.

After the pumpkin cools, peel and puree in food processor, food mill, potato masher or strainer. Fresh-cooked pumpkin will not be as thick as canned pumpkin, Little said, and preparing it from scratch takes a lot more effort than opening a can of pure pumpkin.

Should you choose that labor-saving approach, be careful to notice that cans of pumpkin pie mix or filling also are available, but they contain spices and sugar as well as pumpkin - something probably not desired in savory dishes.

Ruth Burkholder used to make her pumpkin treats with the fruit off the vine, but it takes too much time - her day already begins at 3 a.m.

She and her staff baked and sold more than 50 pumpkin pies for last Thanksgiving in their Sharpsburg bake shop. That's in addition to a wide variety of other offerings, which include pies, cookies, cakes, eight different breads, dinner rolls, thousands of gingerbread boys between Halloween and Christmas, sticky buns, donuts and dumplings.

Burkholder's Baked Goods sells pies made from a recipe Ruth Burkholder devised after finding others too sweet or too spicy. She makes pumpkin bread, and her Pumpkin Cake Roll - a recipe she's been making for several years - also is popular.

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