By Mary Heyl
Of all the foods associated with the different seasons, there’s nothing quite like pumpkins to get everyone excited about fall! Walk down any grocery aisle, and you’ll be surrounded by all kinds of pumpkin goodies: pumpkin spice cereal, pumpkin pie flavored yogurt, pumpkin bread mixes, even pumpkin beer. Grocery marketing schemes aside, there’s a lot to love about fall’s iconic gourd and so many ways to enjoy it that you can make right at home.
Did you know that there are more than 30 varieties of pumpkins? That’s right, like other kinds of fruit, pumpkins are grown in several varieties and they’re a member of the gourd family, along with melons, cantaloupes and squash. The pumpkins found at the grocery store and the pumpkin patch are most likely Connecticut Field pumpkins, an heirloom variety that dates back to the early settlers and is the standard color, size and shape for jack-o’-lanterns!
All pumpkins are edible, but some varieties are better for cooking than others, such as the Small Sugar or the New England Pie varieties. Fortunately, the grocery store has taken all of the guesswork out of the process, but be sure to check your recipe and the labels before you buy! Canned pumpkin is just that—cooked, pureed pumpkin—but pumpkin pie filling is pureed pumpkin with added spices and sugars. Get creative with canned pumpkin and try one of these delicious, easy recipes that everyone will enjoy!
A regular sized can of pureed pumpkin yields more than what’s required for a pumpkin pie—so what to do with that leftover pumpkin? For a delicious treat, try Chef Meg Galvin’s Pumpkin Dip, which is delicious at breakfast on a bagel or with graham crackers for a snack. In a food processor, combine ½ cup of canned pumpkin, 1 cup of 1 percent milkfat cottage cheese, 8 ounces of softened cream cheese, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Process until smooth and store in the refrigerator up to one week.
Kids (and adults!) will love a delicious Pumpkin Shake, Martha Stewart’s go-to recipe for leftover canned pumpkin! In a blender, combine ½ cup of pumpkin puree, 1 cup of vanilla ice cream, ½ cup milk and a pinch of cinnamon. Blend until smooth and enjoy! If you don’t have time to use the leftover pureed pumpkin right away, remember that you can freeze pureed pumpkin and use it in your favorite recipe another time!
Although the pumpkin craze seems uniquely American, pumpkins actually originated in Central America, and they are now grown all over the word, with China being the world’s biggest producer. However, the biggest pumpkin ever grown was in the United States: in Stillwater, Minnesota in 2010, Chris Stevens grew a pumpkin that weighed in at a whopping 1,810.5 pounds! While you may not be looking for a pumpkin quite this large, there are some important things to notice as you’re picking out the perfect pumpkins for your fall decorations.
Whether your intention is to select a great carving pumpkin or choose several pumpkins to decorate your porch into the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s important to check for firmness. Soft spots on a pumpkin, however small, indicate rotting that is already taking place inside the pumpkin and will soon overtake the whole gourd, even though it make look perfectly fine on the outside.
The outer appearance of the pumpkin is important to take into consideration, too. Avoid choosing a pumpkin with any brown spots, even small ones, as this indicates that bugs have been chewing on the pumpkin and may have burrowed inside. It’s a good idea to check out the pumpkin stem, too. Not only do you want to make sure it’s strong enough to handle, but you also want to look at the color of the pumpkin around the stem. If it is noticeably dull, the pumpkin was likely damaged by frost, which will make it rot sooner.
Stay tuned next week for lots of great Halloween- themed pumpkin ideas! Even if you’d rather not wield a carving knife, there are lots of fun ways to decorate your perfectly picked pumpkins just in time for Halloween.