In Season: Pumpkins

Pumpkins are an autumn favorite for Americans. In fact, the U.S. is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the world. Here are ways to cook them and ideas for dishes to try.
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Have you made a trip to the local pumpkin patch and started carving your jack o' lantern yet? If the answer is no, what are you waiting for? It’s pumpkin season!

What, Where & When?

Harvested in September and October, pumpkins are an autumn favorite for Americans. In fact, the U.S. is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the world. Morton, Illinois, is the self-proclaimed "Pumpkin Capital."

A relative of watermelons and cucumbers, pumpkins are a type of squash. They’re round or oval in shape with orange or white skin. Inside, you’ll find pale orange flesh and seeds that are edible. Some varieties of pumpkins have fun names like “Oz,” “Spooktacular,” “Autumn Gold” and “Baby Boo.”

Nutrition Facts

One cup of cooked pumpkin flesh has about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol. They are loaded with beta-carotene and also contain the antioxidant lutein. Pumpkin seeds, meanwhile, have protein, healthy fats, minerals and a small amount of omega-3 fats.

What To Do With Pumpkins

When you pick up one for Halloween, pick up another to cook. If carving up and cooking a big guy isn't your thing, supermarkets are full of pre-cooked, canned pumpkin this time of year. Just be careful not to confuse it with the highly sweetened canned pumpkin pie filling. You cook pumpkin like you would any other winter squash -- peel it, slice it and remove the seeds. Then roast, boil or steam the pieces until tender. (I sometimes roast pumpkin with the skin on and scrape out the insides after cooking.) You can dice the cooked flesh into bite-sized pieces or puree them in a food processor.

Cooked pumpkin adds moisture and flavor to baked goods. I add pumpkin butter (concentrated cooked pumpkin) to muffins and pumpkin puree to carrot cupcakes. Get adventurous and try some cooked pumpkin in soup, puddings, pancakes, soufflés, pasta dishes, smoothies or veggie burgers.

Most associate pumpkin's flavor with earthy spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, but also try it with orange, hot sauce or chili powder.

Shopping Tip: Choose pumpkins that are firm, smooth and brightly colored. You can store whole pumpkins in a cool, dry place for up to three months. Once sliced, keep the pieces in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic for five to seven days. Place cooked pumpkin in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for three to six months.

    Recipes to Try:
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The Veggie Table: Vegan Pumpkin-Banana Bread Pudding

This Valentine’s Day, I want to strike a balance between sweets and heart-healthy foods, so I’ll be making loved ones my Pumpkin Banana Bread Pudding. It’s made with fiber-filled whole-wheat bread, pumpkin and bananas, which are all heart healthy. Better still, this vegan recipe is free of saturated fat and cholesterol, which means it’s a treat for your ticker, too!

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