By Stephanie Henry
U of I News Bureau
URBANA – The flavors of fall are anchored in tradition and memories. Many include a winter fruit which is part of the gourd family, the pumpkin. Pumpkins are often the thread that weaves the flavors of fall together at local festivals, family gatherings, and special celebrations.
Pumpkin is a delicious addition to any meal. “Always select pie pumpkins for cooking. Never consume pumpkins that have been carved or used as yard displays,” says Susan Glassman, a University of Illinois Extension educator and member of the Extension Nutrition and Wellness Team.
Rich in vitamin A, pumpkin packs a powerful punch of nutrition. The bright orange color provides beta-carotene which is converted by the body to vtamin A. “Vitamin A helps with eyesight and promotes healthy growth of cells and tissue,” Glassman says. “Current research from the CDC indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may be associated with a lower risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease.”
Glassman notes that adding pumpkin to recipes is an excellent way to enjoy the flavors of fall. Pumpkin is part of a well-balanced diet as recommended in ChooseMyPlate; a serving of pumpkin is 1 cup. Pumpkin is versatile in its ability to flavor and enhance the nutrition content of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts.
Glassman offers some ideas to enjoy the flavors of fall using pumpkin:
- Make pumpkin smoothies.
- Add pumpkin to pancakes.
- Make pumpkin butter.
- Pumpkin added to chili is a welcome treat.
- Use pumpkin as a lasagna filling.
- Enjoy pumpkin in desserts.
To prepare pumpkins for baking in the oven, cut pumpkin in half and scrape away strings and seeds. Rinse under cold water and place pumpkin, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour or until fork tender. Cool pumpkin, remove the skin, and process into puree using a food mill, ricer, strainer, or potato masher.
Glassman adds these food storage and preservation tips:
- Select pie pumpkins for cooking.
- Buy pumpkins with 1 to 2 inches of stem to stay fresh.
- Store pumpkins in a cool, dry area at temperatures between 55 to 65 degrees F.
- For recipe planning, 1 pound of raw pumpkin will result in 1 cup of puree.
- Cooked pumpkin puree freezes well. To freeze, puree in 1-cup portions. Place in freezer containers or pack in zip closure bags.
- Label, date, and freeze at 0 degrees F for up to one year.
For more information, contact Glassman at 815-224-0889 or visit web.extension.illinois.edu/blmp.