Pumpkin is a food that is usually associated with North American Thanksgiving and harvest time. The bright orange vegetable is more than just a holiday or seasonal dish, however, and is gaining popularity for it’s nutritious health benefits and delicious flavor. Nutritious, economical, and adaptable to every meal and taste preference, make pumpkin a regular addition to your family’s freezer, root cellar or pantry.
A great source of beta-carotene (which generates Vitamin A) pumpkin is also a good source of protein,zinc, magnesium and potassium. It is high in fiber so it will fill you up and help curb your appetite. In fact, pumpkin is sometimes suggested as a natural digestive aid for dogs who need the extra fiber to keep them regular. Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin puree have been used for hundreds of years in North America as a home remedy or treatment for prostate problems (likely due to the high zinc content.) As recently as 2007, studies carried out at a university in China indicate that naturally occurring compounds in pumpkin helped increase insulin production in rats suffering from Type 1 diabetes. The conclusion? Pumpkin is good for everyone – from people to dogs….to rats!
Almost all parts of the pumpkin are suitable for human consumption, from the flesh, flowers and leaves to the seeds. It is extremely adaptable to different recipes, and pumpkin dishes are on the rise. Low-fat pumpkin muffins or loaves can be served for breakfast or a light lunch. Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) or pumpkin cookies can make a great low calorie snack. Dinner dishes can include pumpkin soups, low-carb pumpkin casseroles, and roasted, steamed, or boiled pumpkin. While pumpkin pie is a staple of holiday desserts in Canada and the United States, there are many other
sweet pumpkin dishes to tempt your palate includes pumpkin cheesecake, spice cakes, puddings and custards.
Pumpkins are an economical vegetable which are also fairly easy to grow for a home vegetable garden. Plant pumpkin seeds in early July to reap the harvest in September and October. Usually ranging in size from a few pounds to over 18 (though the largest recorded pumpkin is well over 1800 lbs.), four to five medium pumpkins can serve a family of four to six over the course of a year. Save your smaller pumpkins for boiling or roasting as a side dish as they will be more tender. Larger pumpkins can be peeled, cut into chunks and boiled in salted water for about 30 minutes. After cooling, puree in a blender or food processor. Freeze in two cup portions for baking or cooking. Pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer for about a year, or in the fridge for about two to three months. Canned pumpkin puree is also a frugal and healthy recipe choice – but check the ingredients for salt if you are watching your sodium content.
So there you have it. Pumpkin is healthy, inexpensive, and becoming increasingly popular – even Harry Potter and his gang enjoy their pumpkin juice. The next time you are baking, try substituting pumpkin for applesauce in muffins or a loaf – you’ll be delightfully surprised with the results!