Pumpkins: Not Just for Jack O’ Lanterns

By Susan K Wilkerson, RD, LD at Lexington Medical Center

As I see it, there are three kinds of pumpkins: one type is good for carving, another for baking and the other is grown to win the largest pumpkin at the State Fair. The Atlantic Giant Pumpkin is the type you see at the fairs and festivals. The world record is 2,009 pounds set in 2012. It would be a little tough to eat or carve.

The word, pumpkin is derived from the Greek word “pepon” which means “large melon”. Melons and pumpkins have very similar health benefits. Pumpkins are a good source of Lutein for eye health and Beta Carotene which generates Vitamin A in the body. The phytochemicals found in pumpkins – trigonelline and nicotinic acid – may have a favorable affect on insulin and glucose levels in diabetes. The seeds are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.

Baking pumpkins are much smaller and have smooth lighter skin. Pumpkins are very versatile in cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin plant are edible; the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves and even the flowers. Pumpkins can be baked, boiled, steamed, and roasted. They are mostly eaten mashed in soups, casseroles and pies.

Here are tips on how to prepare a pumpkin for cooking—
•First scrub the outside of the pumpkin with a vegetable brush.
•Cut the pumpkin in half and use a spoon to scrape out the fibers and the seeds. A serrated grapefruit spoon works great for this. Save the seeds for roasting with a little sea salt.
•Cut the pumpkin halves into smaller pieces and place them skin side up in a shallow baking dish.
•Add water to just cover the bottom of the dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
•Bake in a 325ºF oven until the pumpkin is fork tender. The time will vary depending on the size of your pieces.
•Cool and either cut off the peel or scoop out the flesh.

Here’s a recipe to start your day off with a good nutritional kick:

Pumpkin Pancakes
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a separate bowl. Stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Sources: Wikipedia, WebMD, Old Farmer’s Almanac, allrecipes.com

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