Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Pumpkins-all around vegetable

 

October 24, 2019

Photos courtesy of UW Extension

Above: Giant Pumpkins -

October. This time of year brings back memories of the Halloweens of my childhood. Spiced apples, bobbing for apples, caramel apples, popcorn balls and, of course, jack o'lanterns. Make that pumpkins in disguise. This holiday was a big one for my mother. She just loved scaring the neighbor kids and that just meant that there were always a lot of them that came to our front door. Halloween back then wasn't near as scary (in a dangerous sense) as it is today. The streets were loaded with kids and parents, very few cars, and very, very few wackos. The big department stores all had costume contests and there were parties all over the city. Most people made their costumes rather than buy them. I still think they're the best. The one thing we never had at my house, though, was a jack o'lantern. Everybody else did, but not us. To this day, I don't know why.

My first personal experience with pumpkins came when I was about 13 years old. Until then, I'd never even had pumpkin pie. It was always sweet potato pie instead. Then one summer I was cleaning up around our Boy Scout building and came across an unusual plant that I couldn't identify. It was a bunch of vines (not at all uncommon in Florida) with a lot of orange fruit. The fruits were hard and I had no idea what they were so I took it home to my Dad. Apparently someone had dumped some decaying pumpkins behind the Scout building and the seeds came up in the spring and bore fruit. Since my Dad was the cook in our family, I finally had pumpkin pie.

I've been growing pumpkins for several years now and get a pretty good harvest every year. That's a good thing because Linda makes over a hundred loaves of pumpkin bread during the holiday season. I grow a lot and we use a lot. I'm pretty well set in what I grow, but what is really the hype about pumpkin?

The first thing that we need to understand in order to understand pumpkin is that it is a winter squash, a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. There are a lot of varieties of squash and the winter squash tend to be much sweeter than the summer squash and has many more uses. The pumpkin is native to North America and has been cultivated for hundreds and maybe thousands of years by particular native American tribes. It was a big hit at the first Thanksgiving. But there really isn't a very good mention of when pumpkins were first used for Halloween until an article was published in "Harper's Young People" magazine in 1866 commenting in a "a great sacrifice of pumpkins" that had been made for that Halloween. But there is no known date when jack o'lanterns were first carved from pumpkins. In fact, Halloween didn't even show up in America until the mid-1800's. It had been an Irish holiday and came to the U.S. with the Irish immigrants. It didn't become popular until the 1920's, with trick or treating becoming popular in the 1930's.

But there is a lot more to pumpkins than jack o'lanterns. Pumpkins are a very healthy food and tasty as well. But, before I get into the benefits of pumpkin I want to dispel a belief. Canned pumpkin is rarely, if ever, pumpkin. You are really buying Hubbard squash instead, another winter squash. It taste the same, but Hubbards have less water than pumpkin and are easier to process. They're comparable to pumpkin in health value, too. Pumpkins are very high in Vitamin A as well as other vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked pumpkin (245 grams) contains: 49 Calories, Fat: 0.2 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Carbs: 12 grams, Fiber: 3 grams, Vitamin A: 245% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI), Vitamin C: 19% of the RDI, Potassium: 16% of the RDI, Copper: 11% of the RDI, Manganese: 11% of the RDI, Vitamin B2: 11% of the RDI, Vitamin E: 10% of the RDI, Iron: 8% of the RDI and small amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, folate and several B vitamins. It's also very high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that your body turns into vitamin A. Pumpkins are 94% water which does make them hard to process for cooking. They have to be cooked down for a long time to eliminate the water.

There are a lot of pumpkin varieties to choose from and what you choose will depend on your use. And virtually every part of the pumpkin is edible. Pie pumpkins are very small and sweet. Primarily they are used for baking pies and breads. A good general use pumpkin is the Connecticut Field Pumpkin. This variety can easily weigh up to 25 pounds and is a good crossover pumpkin. They are great for baking, but are large and smooth enough for jack o'lanterns at Halloween. This is the variety that I grow for pies and bread. It has a lot of water so I spend quite a bit of time cooking it down so I can freeze it. Larger pumpkins grown specifically for jack o'lanterns are available but lack the flavor of the smaller pumpkins. Not all pumpkins are orange. You can even get a "Ghost" pumpkin that is white and pumpkins that are pale, blue-green, brown, pink and even multi-colored. Then there are the giant pumpkins and they could be an article all by themselves. The giant pumpkins are a special variety that has been crossed to produce their enormous size. The largest pumpkin reported in Laramie County this year was over 1,400 pounds. It sounds big, but when compared to the 4,400 plus pound behemoth grown in California, it's not so big after all. Growing giant pumpkins is both an art and a science. If you are interested in giant pumpkins I'd suggest talking with someone who's already growing them for more information.

Pumpkins are good eating regardless what you are doing with them. We're all familiar with pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, but have you ever had pumpkin soup? Pumpkins make a terrific soup that is very thick and filling...perfect for a cold, wintery evening. The seeds can be baked for a quick snack, similar to sunflower seeds. The leaves are used in Korean cuisine as a vegetable or in soups and in the Southwest US the flowers are used for garnishes and are sometimes battered and fried as a delicacy.

Pumpkins are just a great all-around vegetable. If you haven't experimented with pumpkin and its wide variety of uses, maybe it's time to start. I'd suggest trying some soup this winter. It's perfect for a night like tonight when comfort food is the order of the day. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do. And by the way, we're good cooks, too.

 

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