Head, Heart, Hands & Health: October is pumpkin season

Each season always brings a change of food to the table and October brings pumpkins. During the month of October, 80 percent of the pumpkin supply is harvested in the United States. You see them everywhere this time of year, they are in the grocery stores, at road side stands and many organizations have a pumpkin patch for a fund raising project. We carve faces on them or display them for fall decorations. Pumpkins are a member of the squash family; when these boldly colored vegetables start showing up we know Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner.

The one thing many people overlook about pumpkins is the food value of the pulp. That’s the inside of the pumpkin you throw away when you carve a face on the front. The bright orange color is an indication that the pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, an important antioxidant; it’s converted to vitamin A in the body that has many functions for health including smooth skin and healthy eye sight. We often associate pumpkins with pies, but there are many other uses for pumpkin. They can be used in any recipe for winter squash such as acorn or butternut. Try combining pumpkin with potatoes in your favorite casserole. Add pumpkin puree to your pancake mix or use in muffins and sweet breads. You can even make pumpkin soup, and the seeds can be roasted and eaten for a snack.

Extension Specialists suggest when selecting a pumpkin, look for one with a one to two inch stem. It should feel heavy and be free of blemishes and soft spots. Smaller pumpkins are better for eating; they are more flavorful and don’t have a stingy texture. A lopsided pumpkin is not necessarily a bad choice, so don’t pass them up. Since pumpkins are highly perishable, one must be cooked the same day it is cut open. The orange flesh has a tendency to develop a black mold. Pumpkin pulp can be cooked on the stove-top, in the oven or microwave. Each method takes a different time, but all produce a cooked product. For use in a variety of recipes, puree will freeze well. To make puree, once your pumpkin is cooked, cool it enough to handle and remove the peel using a small sharp knife then put the peeled pumpkin in a food processor.

One pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin will make one cup of finished pumpkin puree. To freeze, measure cooled puree into one cup portions and place in freezer containers, leaving ½ inch headspace. Label, date and freeze; it will keep up to one year. Use the puree in any recipe that calls for solid pack canned pumpkin. Pumpkin can be processed in canning jars, but you must cut the flesh into one inch cubes. It is recommended that you not process mashed or pureed pumpkin in a canner. Pumpkin must be processed in a pressure canner. If you are interested in receiving safe canning or freezing instructions, call the Extension office and we will be glad to send you the information. The University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.

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