Those symbolic Halloween pumpkins are also good to eat (not after burning candles in them though). Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbita or gourd family as are cucumbers, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and zucchini). A bright orange pumpkin has a delicious flesh underneath the skin that is rich in beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) which is a potent antioxidant and provides the orange colour. Beta-carotene is good for vision, healthy skin, teeth, bones and mucous membranes. ½ cup cooked pumpkin will provide you with ¼ of your daily beta-carotene requirements. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium, folate and fibre.
Health Canada recommends you eat one serving of an orange vegetable each day and pumpkin is a great way to do it.
Pumpkin seeds are also great for you. They contain protein, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds will provide you with 13.75g protein, 8.3 mg iron and 4.2 mg zinc. The seeds are also a great source of essential fats including omega 3. Omega 3 fats help reduce cholesterol, improve blood flow and may reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.
Nutrient Information for ½ cup cooked pumpkin:
Protein: 0.93 g
Carbohydrates: 6.34 g
Fat: 0.09 g
Vitamin C: 6.1 mg
Beta Carotene: 2713 mcg
Folate: 12 mg
Potassium: 289 mg
Phosphorus: 39 mg
Iron: 0.74 mg
Calcium: 19 mg
The pumpkins we usually use for carving are Cucurbita Pepo but are not as tasty when they get really big. Curcubita Mashata are used for pie fillings and baking and Cucubita Maxima can be used fresh for cooking and are dark green or tan and often oblong in shape.
Buying and Storing:
Pie pumpkins are available at the end of the summer but the big pumpkins used for carving Jack-O-Lanterns take longer to ripen and come out in September and October. Pumpkins for pies should be heavy for their size. This means they have lots of flesh. A lighter pumpkin will be dry and lack taste. It should also have a firm skin and no cuts or gashes with mold or decay.
You can store a pumpkin (un-cut) for 6 months in a cool, dry place. You can also freeze uncooked pumpkin for up to 3-4 months or refrigerate it for 3-5 days.
Cut off the tough outer skin. This is often easier to do if you roast the squash in the oven first. First, wash off the dirt, poke it with holes and cut it in half. Place it on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, or until it is easy to poke the flesh with a fork, at 350 F. Once cooked and cooled, scoop off the seeds and stringy bits and the spoon out the flesh and use it in your favorite recipe.
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds:
Scoop out the seeds from a raw pumpkin and rinse off any stringy bits. Let them dry on paper towel, lightly spray with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast at 250 F for 45-60 minutes.
Other Great ways to include pumpkin in your diet:
Pumpkin seeds in trail mix, on cereal or on top of yogurt
Pumpkin seeds in salads or for crunch in a stir fry or rice dish
Cooked pumpkin in soups or casseroles
Mashed with brown sugar and cinnamon instead of potatoes
In pie, cheesecake or ginger cookies
The Bottom Line:
Add some orange vegetables to your diet today and for variety, make it pumpkin.