By Dorothy Long. HEc
In Season: September and October
Pumpkins are native to Canada and have been grown here for hundreds of years. First Nations people ate them roasted, boiled and stewed, and they roasted the seeds as well. Today, most pumpkins are used for jack-o-lanterns or pumpkin pie but there are so many more ways to cook and enjoy pumpkins.
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes from the small pie pumpkins to the giant pumpkins that take a forklift to move. There are also carving pumpkin and novelty ones that are bumpy or come in white or different shades of green and orange. Pumpkins are considered a winter squash along with butternut, Hubbard, buttercup and acorn squashes.
Buying and Storing Pumpkin
- For cooking, it is best to purchase the small to medium sized pie pumpkins as they have the best flavour and texture. Look for firm, smooth orange skin with no bruises or cracks. Pie pumpkins should also feel heavy for their size.
- For Jack-o-lanterns, look for a firm pumpkin with no soft spots or cracks. Make sure it has a well-rounded shape that will sit nicely for your Halloween display.
- Store whole pumpkins unwrapped in a cool, dry, dark, well-ventilated place (not the refrigerator). Pumpkins and other winter squash will keep for months if stored properly.
- Once a fresh pumpkin has been cut up, store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use within 5 days.
- Freezing: Cook until soft, remove rind and mash. Allow to cool, then place in a sealed container in the freezer for up to six months.
Pumpkin is full of beta-carotene and is an excellent source of vitamin A, thiamine and riboflavin and a good source of vitamin C. It also contains fibre and potassium, making it a smart choice to add, not only to your baking, but soups and stews too! Plus, ½ cup (125 mL) of roasted pumpkin is only 20 calories.
Pumpkin can be steamed, boiled, roasted, microwaved and even grilled. Once cooked, it can be mashed and added to baked goods, casseroles, soups and stews, where it will add great flavor and act as a thickener too.
To Roast Pumpkin:
Cut the pumpkin into quarters, scoop out the seeds, brush it with canola oil and place it in the oven for 45 – 50 minutes at 400°F (200°C) or until tender. Roasting deepens the flavour. Serve with other roasted vegetables as a side dish or mash it to add to baked goods, casseroles, stews and soups.
To Boil/Steam Pumpkin:
Cut pumpkin into quarters, remove seeds and fibre. Cut into large cubes. Boil in lightly salted water or steam for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Strain. Once cool remove pulp from rind.
To Microwave Pumpkin:
Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds, fibre and peel. Cut into cubes. Place in a bowl, cover and microwave on high for 15 to 18 minutes or until tender. Stop and stir every few minutes.
Use a food processor or blender to process cooked pumpkin until smooth. You can also use a food mill, strainer or potato masher. After processing, drain pulp in a strainer for at least 15 minutes or longer for thicker puree. Discard cooking liquid or reserve for use in soups and stews. Pack purée in airtight containers. Refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to six months.
Pumpkin freezes well after cooking. Store for up to six months.
Generally, 1 pound (454 g) of fresh pumpkin equals about 4 cups (1 L) raw peeled and cubed pumpkin, or 1 cup (250 mL) cooked then mashed or pureed pumpkin.
Canned pumpkin is readily available year-round and you can also easily substitute butternut squash in recipes that call for pumpkin. Double check the label to buy pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, unless that is what your recipe calls for!
Five Quick Ways to Enjoy Pumpkin
- Simply add cooked pumpkin to soups and stews for flavour and a thicker texture.
- Serve roasted pumpkin with other roasted vegetables as a side dish. Or add it to a spinach or arugula salad with balsamic dressing, goat cheese, dried cherries and roasted pumpkin seeds.
- Grilled pumpkin slices: Cut pumpkin in half and scrape out seeds and fibre. Peel each half and cut into ½ inch (1.25 cm) slices. Marinate pumpkin slices in 2 Tbsp (30 mL) canola oil, some minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Grill slices over medium heat for a few minutes on each side. Garnish with mint, parsley, and you favourite oil and vinegar dressing, if desired.
- Pumpkin Oven Chips: Slice very thin using a mandolin or peeler, toss with canola oil and a pinch of salt. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet at 400ºF/200ºC until the chips are slightly browned, 20 to 35 minutes. Cool and enjoy.
- Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: An average sized pumpkin contains about one cup (250 mL) of seeds. Once seeds are removed, rinse them to remove any excess fibre. Spread seeds on a parchment lined baking sheet and allow to air dry overnight. Then toss with 2 tsp (10 mL) canola oil and a pinch of salt. Return to the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 250°F (120°C), stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours or until golden brown and crunchy.