I love fall. It’s got to be my favorite season – until spring. Fall is
pumpkins and acorns and oak leaves and bales of hay and corn stalks and of course the color of fall leaves. You’d never know I grew up a city girl would you?
In today’s article, we are going to look forward to enjoying pumpkins with perhaps new insight and purpose. Pumpkins should find a niche in your preparedness pantry, with the potential of “long term storage” capabilities. They definitely can claim a spot in our budget planning as an economic bonus. Compare the price of pumpkin at 19 cents a pound as opposed to other winter squash at 69, 79 or 89 cents a pound. In addition to those good points for the Great Pumpkin, the latest research is showing it to be a bonanza of good-for-you vitamins. “It is full of beta-carotene, fiber and even Omega 3s and is also a good source of five vitamins.” (The Power of Pumpkin, p 124, Reverse Diabetes, Reader’s Digest, 2012) It is good in everything from muffins to breads, soups to casseroles and cookies to those traditional pies. Keep in mind, one of my major goals with these columns is to help you see the practical side of things, so keep reading all about the practicality of pumpkins.
Of course, for many, the first pumpkin image that comes to mind is a jack-o-lantern. But I’m here to tell you pumpkins are a whole lot more than “just” jack-o-lanterns! And the good news is that pumpkins are now making their appearance in produce departments. (Which means you can get ready for the thrill of the hunt!)
Here is your Preparedness Pointer for Pumpkins! It is really a winter squash. White or orange – you choose. Usually the white kind has a milder flavor than the typical orange kind. The little pie pumpkins are usually more expensive; yet taste similar to their big brothers. (Some say they are even sweeter.) Buy pumpkin when it is in season. Store several on a shelf, or on the floor, in a cool closet, or basement, if you have one. If kept cool, they will keep for several months! The skin just gets harder. Should a soft spot develop in one, quickly use the rest of the pumpkin, cutting out the soft spot. If kept on the same shelf as green winter squash, the green squash will turn orange. It doesn’t affect the flavor though.
Sometimes our automatic connection for the word pumpkin is pie. However, have you tried pumpkin as a regular squash or vegetable? If not, you are in for a delicious surprise. Forget the traditional pie spices for some different tastes. Pumpkin prepared as a squash has a mild, sweet meat. Simply slice it and bake as you would banana squash, dotting it with butter (lots), and sprinkle with nutmeg and/or cinnamon. For a sweet side dish, you can cube it and bake as candied yams, with or without the marshmallows. In fact, any yam recipe works. Or simply cube and microwave or steam as a buttered vegetable. It can be cubed and used as an ingredient in casseroles, skillet dishes and soups. (Try it in your favorite butternut soup recipe!)
It is very easy to prepare. Don’t be discouraged by the hard shell. Cut the pumpkin in half or chunks. Scrape off the seeds and pulp. Dip it into boiling water, to blanch it, for just a minute or two, and the skin comes right off. Or you can simply put it in a glass dish, skin side up, and microwave it for just a few minutes. You don’t necessarily want to cook it at this point, just soften it and again the skin comes right off.
You can also puree it and use it for a variety of bread / baked goods, and of course THE PIE. It freezes easily in two-cup batches ready to pop into any recipe.
You can always hollow out a pumpkin to use for a fun soup tureen. (It is used raw) The “soup tureen” can then be converted back to pumpkin to use in recipes. Just wash and rinse it. Or you can hollow one out and bake it with the soup or stew in it. Once baked, you must serve it on a large platter or something with a lip-edge to it. As you scoop out the soup or stew, scoop out chunks of the pumpkin from the sides as part of your meal, being careful to not break the skin.
It is usually more economical to buy several small ones for eating/cooking than very large ones. Once pumpkins have been cut, they need to be used soon. They will keep refrigerated for several days to a week. Cover them as tightly as possible – even wrap them- with plastic wrap. Or you can blanch and freeze them for later use. If you should find a bargain pumpkin that is really TOO big, you can always share and pass on the good word about pumpkins.
If you want to use a jack-o-lantern as just pumpkin, use it as soon as possible after Halloween. Use it while it still resembles a pumpkin inside, not a black, furry creature with gray fuzz, or homegrown penicillin. Simply wash the inside very well. Scrub or cut away any burned or blackened areas. (We are not processing Cajun pumpkin here.) The candle wax should just peel off. Rinse well and prepare it with whatever recipe you have planned.
Remember the seeds can be roasted or toasted and eaten as a snack or used in salads, etc. The biggest chore will be separating them from the pulp. Some times it’s easier to spread the pulp on a cookie sheet or plastic wrap, allowing it to air-dry and then separate out the seeds. You can dry roast the seeds or use a small amount of oil to coat them. You can also toast them in a small amount of oil in a frying pan. They do burn quickly, so watch them and stir often.
I want to emphasize the budget-bonus part again. Pumpkin can be interchanged in any recipe that calls for squash. Pumpkin can also be used in almost any recipe that calls for yams or sweet potatoes. In these instances, it will be the spices that make the difference! It adds color and good food value. The only problem is that it is available fresh for such a short time. Keep in mind the pumpkin pantry potential to solve that dilemma!
Picking out pumpkins is as traditional as picking out the Christmas tree in our family. Even if you use fake ones to decorate with, it is still mandatory to stroll through the pumpkin patches and pumpkin piles at the stores. After all, you have to heft and hug, check out the stems, and find the bumpiest, ugliest or prettiest. Now this year, thanks to this new information, there will be even more pumpkins you have to heft! You will be checking for freshness and deciding how many meals there are in one or two- three or …
You can draw faces on the ones you are going to keep on the closet shelf for a while. Then at night, when it gets close to Halloween, just when you think all should be quiet, you will hear giggling, and “tee-heeing.” Your pumpkins with faces will be “fall-ing” off the shelf, thumping and bumping as they snicker with glee, to be in the dark in your closet!