A pumpkin is a member of the cucurbit (gourd) family. The cucurbit family includes pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and melons. Most of the plants in this family are vines, however there are a few exceptions.
Pumpkins come in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes. On our farm, we try to grow a variety of types, always experimenting with what grows best in our climate and soil type - as well as which makes the tastiest pie!
Colors may range from green, yellow, orange, red, white, and blue to even multi-colored striped pumpkins. They can be huge, tiny, flat, short, tall, round, pear, necked, smooth, ribbed and even warty. Some pumpkins are fabulous for culinary uses. Some pumpkins are more suited to being carved or displayed.
The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepõn which means large melon. The word gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word "pumpkin." Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the "Three Sisters" tradition.
The Three Sisters are squash, corn and beans which grow and thrive together. Corn serves as the natural trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans roots set nitrogen in the soil to nourish the corn. The bean vines help to stabilize the corn stalks on windy days. The squash plants shelter the shallow roots of the corn and shade the ground to discourage weeds and preserve moisture. Truly a symbiotic relationship. I have read where it was a common practice to bury a small fish alongside the seeds at planting to nourish the "Three Sisters."
These early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source, long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped The Native Americans make it through long cold winters. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour.
They dried the shells and used them as bowls and containers to store grain, beans and seeds. I have read where they pounded and dried the pumpkin flesh into strips, and wove the strips into mats which they used for trading purposes.
It is said that Columbus carried pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe. There they were used to feed pigs, but not as a human food source.
Indians introduced pumpkins and squashes to the Pilgrims. Pumpkins were an important food source for the pilgrims, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months. It is documented that pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.
*Sourced from the "All About Pumpkins" webpage
Pumpkins are very good for you. They fit well into a health-conscious diet. And aside from that, they taste good!
Pumpkins are low in calories but high in fiber. They are also low in sodium. The seeds are high in protein, iron, and the B vitamins.
Pumpkins are very high in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxident. It converts into Vitamin A, which is important to maintain a healthy body.
Researchers believe that eating a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. They also believe it helps to delay aging.
Here are some different methods for you to choose from for cooking your pumpkin.
Before cooking the pumpkin do the following:
- Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy material.
- Cut into wedges or halves depending upon cooking method chosen.
In large pot with approximately an inch of water, add two pounds of chopped pumpkin pieces (the larger the chunks, the longer it takes to cook); bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and let simmer. Stir occasionally. Larger pieces take between 20 - 25 minutes to cook; cubing the pumpkin into half-inch cubes results in a quicker cooking time of 10 - 15 minutes. Cook until you can pierce the flesh easily with a fork. When cubing pumpkin, it's easiest to remove the skin first with a potato peeler; when using larger chunks, just peel the flesh from the skin after it's been cooked. Drain and let cool.
Fill large covered pot with 1 inch water; place a steaming rack inside. Add pumpkin pieces/chunks, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and steam for 30 minutes (or until tender). Remove flesh from skin once pumpkin has been drained and cooled.
*This is my favorite method. Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material. If the flesh looks fairly dry, cover the cut side of each pumpkin half with a piece of foil. If it is moist leave it uncovered. Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake, foil side up in a preheated oven at 350 °F for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork. Don't worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor. When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh.
Finishing the Process:
Once the flesh has been removed using any of the above methods, mash with a fork or potato masher, or puree with a food processor or blender until smooth; then simply measure out the amount you need.
- In general a 5 lb. pumpkin will yield approximately 4 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin pulp.
- If you're using a recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, figure one 29 oz. can is equal to about 3-1/4 cups fresh, cooked, and pureed pumpkin. A 16 oz. can of pumpkin is the equivalent of approximately 2 cups of mashed pulp.
- If your pumpkin pulp is too watery you may drain it in cheesecloth or a sieve. Alternatively you can cook it down to a thicker consistency in a sauce pan.
Use fresh pumpkin for all your recipes! You'll be amazed at the taste!
Simply keep pumpkins protected from elements and out of direct sunlight for best preservation. Most varieties will store for at least 3 months or so.
*Use those delicious Long Pie Pumpkins from your box in this recipe - they are one of the best for pies! They are virtually stringless and smooth, and have a brilliant orange flesh.
Use your favorite pie shell to make one 9-inch pie. (I prefer homemade)
2 cups Long Pie pumpkin puree 2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cream
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Heat your oven to 425°F. In a large mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the purée and the remaining ingredients and stir to blend. Pour the mixture into the dough-lined pan. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes or until a knife in- serted comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
*We like ours with fresh whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream!
Maple Pumpkin Bread
Subtly sweet and delightfully spiced, this pumpkin bread is heartier and more wholesome than a standard pumpkin bread. It uses pure maple syrup to sweeten (no white sugar!) with butter and whole wheat flour. Try adding chopped pecans, walnuts, or chocolate chips to the recipe.
Yield: 1 large loaf in 9x5x3 pan
1 3/4 cup pumpkin puree*
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup melted butter
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Optional: pecans, walnuts, chocolate chips
*To make fresh pumpkin puree, cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds, coat with butter or olive oil (optional), and roast cut-side down for about an hour until the pumpkin is soft and the skin peels off easily. Mash or puree the cooked pumpkin.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9x5x3 pan.
- Whisk the flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together in a bowl and set aside.
- Mix the pumpkin, salt, vanilla, maple, and melted butter together. Add the eggs and incorporate.
- Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in optional ingredients. Do not over mix.
- Bake in 9x5x3 pan for about an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp oil (your choice)
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tsp salt
Separate the seeds from pumpkin pulp. No need to wash them, just pull the fibers and excess pulp off. Leaving remnants of the flesh on the seeds gives them a wonderful pumpkin flavor. In a bowl coat seeds with oil, butter and salt. Spread and bake on a baking sheet at 225° F until seeds are golden, crisp and dry, about 1 hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Cool and enjoy!
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
chili powder to taste
garlic powder to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
seasoned salt to taste
*This recipe comes from Chef Mary Dumont of the Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- 2 pounds peeled, seeded, and diced sugar pie pumpkin
- 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
In a stainless steel pot, combine pumpkin, sugar, brown sugar, and salt; bring to a simmer. (If using fresh pumpkin, stir until it's tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.)
Continue simmering until the mixture starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a blender; blend until smooth. Return mixture to pot and heat for 10 minutes on low until it reaches desired thickness. Remove, cool, and serve.
Feeling adventurous? Try one of these variations: Apple-Cinnamon: Add 1/2 pound of peeled and diced Granny Smith apples, 3/4 cup apple juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger. Spread this on toast for a sweet treat. Cardamom-Clove: Add 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon ground clove, and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice. This slightly more savory butter goes well with meats such as pork.