Pumpkin is a traditional fall favorite—and should be considered more than pie filling or home decorations.
If you carved a pumpkin for Halloween and are thinking about cooking it up after all your spooky festivities are over, you’d probably be better off if your neighborhood ghost or goblin smashes it to smithereens on fright night.
That’s because the large pumpkins sold for carving are virtually tasteless and have a stringy, fibrous flesh while smaller, “sweet” pumpkins also known as pie or sugar pumpkins are what’s recommended for cooking—from pies, cakes and tarts to risotto, soups and stews. (You can use roast the seeds from jack-0′-lanterns.)
How to Buy
Fresh pumpkins are available from the fall through the New Year. Look for small sugar pumpkins, which boast a sweet, tender flesh that’s tastier than the stringy jack-o’-lantern varieties. Choose those that are deep-orange and heavy for their size (generally 4-5 pounds), and don’t have blemishes or cracks. Mini pumpkins also known as Jack-be-Littles (I did not make that up!) are also great for cooking and make great food vessels guaranteed to impress your guests.
Pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse. A cup of cooked pureed or mashed pumpkin provides about 50 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, 2.5 grams natural sugars and is loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Pumpkin provides vitamin C, iron, zinc, potassium, and are among the best sources of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and several other carotenoids. Since most of us fail to get enough deep orange veggies in our diet, the new dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of getting 5-6 servings a week of red or orange veggies for their anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and heart health benefits.
After washing pumpkins with water thoroughly, they’ll keep well at room temperature for up to a month. If in a cool cellar or refrigerator, they can last up to three months. Once cut, pumpkin pieces should be wrapped tightly and refrigerated. Use cut pumpkin within 3-5 days.
Pumpkins can be baked, roasted, grilled, microwaved or steamed and can be used in most sweet and savory dishes from baked goods to spicy chili and curried dishes. Pumpkin’s flavor is paired perfectly with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, sage, cloves and cranberries.
There are several ways to cook sweet pumpkins, depending upon their size and what you want to make with them. Once you discard seeds and the stringy fiber, you can cut a pumpkin into uniform pieces no larger than 2″x 2″ with the skin on and bake or microwave until all pieces are soft.
You can also cut off tops and bottoms and using a peeler, peel the pumpkin skin off to roast the flesh without the skin. You can also use a peeler to try to peel the pumpkins and cut into small pieces to roast. Roasting and baking smaller or mini pumpkins whole by slicing off tops and placing in oven at 400 for about an hour. You can bake them with or without seeds and the stringy fiber.
Many pumpkin recipes call for pumpkin puree. If you want to make your own pumpkin puree that you can use for pumpkin pie or most baked goods, follow these simple tips.
After baking a sweet pumpkin, discard the skin, seeds and stringy parts and place the soft flesh in a food processor. Process until evenly pureed. Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or freeze for up to 10 months.
Since Craig loves pumpkin pie, I always make him at least one for Thanksgiving and another for Christmas. I have never taken the time to prepare my own pumpkin puree because Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin is readily available and does all the hard part for me. The cans are just 100% pumpkin, so there’s no added sugar, salt, preservatives or spices. Once I have the puree, I simply follow the Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe and bake in a whole wheat crust. Their website also have a great version for a crustless pumpkin pie on the site too that slashes calories and fat. Since pumpkin pie is a calorie bargain compared to most other pies, I generally make it with a crust.
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins—from Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Makes 30 muffins or 2 Loaves
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 (15 oz) can Libby’s 100% pure pumpkin
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup applesauce
½ cup orange juice
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 9x5inch loaf pans
2. Combine flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
3. Combine sugars, pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil, applesauce and orange juice in a large mixer bowl; beat until just blended.
4. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stir just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.
5. For muffins, bake for about 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. For bread, bake 60 to 65 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pan and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
*Pumpkin Pie Spice
Yield 5 teaspoons
3 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground dry mustard
Pumpkin Custard with Maple Cream, courtesy of Erin Macdonald, RD of U Rock Girl
- 2 cups pumpkin puree
- 12 oz. can fat-free evaporated milk
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup Splenda/Sugar Baking Blend
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- zest of 1/2 orange
- 1/2 cup Egg substitute
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
- 1 tbs. pure maple syrup
- 3 dashes ground cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon graham cracker, crushed
- Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 13×9-inch glass baking dish by lining it with a clean dish towel. Place 8 ramekins in the baking dish.
- Boil 4 cups water in a tea kettle or microwave.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, Splenda, cornstarch, orange zest, and egg substitute. Blend with a whisk until smooth.
- Pour the pumpkin mixture into each of the ramekins. Fill the glass baking dish with boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Place the glass baking dish in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.
- While the custards are baking, combine the yogurt, maple syrup, and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl. Reserve until serving.
- When the custards are done, remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully remove the ramekins from the dish. Allow to cool 10 minutes.
- Top each custard with some crushed graham cracker and a dollop of the cinnamon maple cream. Serve.
Sweet and spicy toasted pumpkin seeds—from Sweet Pea Bakery in Bozeman, Montana
- 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds (rinsed and dried)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat seeds in melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, stirring two to three times. Let cool.
If you have kids that are veggie-haters or like most of us, just need ways to infuse more veggie serving in our diet, here are some great tips for using 100% pure pumpkin puree to add fiber and beneficial carotenoids to your meals.
- Add to pasta sauces
- Blend in with mashed potatoes
- Mix with applesauce
- Enjoy with Greek yogurt or as an oatmeal topper
- Stir in to hummus
- Enjoy mixed in with natural peanut butter
- Add to your quick bread or muffin recipes
- Fold into whole wheat pancakes or waffles
- Use in your favorite smoothie recipes