"How many more sleeps until I can wear my princess/pirate costume mom?” Is the enthusiasm and energy level rising in your house now that the big H is a mere week away? Halloween is undoubtedly an infectious time of year. Kids seem to love any excuse to dress up and we parents love any excuse to sneak a snack-sized Snickers bar into our daily diet (I know I can’t be the only one).
Those sugary treats are a hallmark of the occasion and almost unavoidable this time of year. While chocolate and high-fructose corn syrup may play a key role in Halloween celebrations, there is another, often-overlooked Halloween staple that could help redefine the unhealthy reputation of October 31. No, I’m not talking about candy corn, I’m actually referring to pumpkins!
This winter squash may commonly populate the front porches and windowsills of homes across North America, but it’s about time our buddy Jack be given the recognition he deserves: as a major power-player in the fight against cancer and heart disease.
Beyond their decorative function, pumpkins are healthy, versatile and much easier to cook than you might think. Most of the pumpkins you’ll see in your local markets belong to the Cucurbita pepo species of squash, which also includes acorn and spaghetti squash, as well as zucchini. The pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns usually average in weight from nine to 18 pounds and yield great seeds for roasting, but may not be as ideal for cooking with, as they are often stringy. Pumpkins that are best for cooking are sugar or pie pumpkins, as well as the Autumn Gold or Ghost Rider varieties. All feature a sweeter taste and creamier texture than the ones you buy for carving.
Health Benefits: The high beta-carotene content of pumpkin is what gives it its cancer- and heart disease-fighting properties. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is also known to help regulate the blood sugar levels of diabetics. A one cup serving of pumpkin is ranked number two among the top 10 foods containing the highest content of beta-carotene per serving according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A one-cup serving of pumpkin contains just 49 calories and also provides a good dose of potassium (564 mg) and dietary fibre (three grams). And here’s a good news for the male members of your family: pumpkin seeds may help prevent prostate cancer in men. The seeds are also a good source of protein, magnesium, zinc, and could possibly help lower cholesterol.
How to select: Look for pumpkins that are free from soft spots, nicks or bruises. Bruises can indicate a pumpkin is on the verge of rotting, while nicks or cuts can lead to quick infection and deterioration of your pumpkin. Surface marks or imperfections do not indicate a bad pumpkin.
If you do want to cook with carving pumpkins (and you certainly can!), look for smaller ones weighing around four to eight pounds, as the larger ones usually have coarser, stringier flesh.
How to properly store and use pumpkin
You can store pumpkins outdoors out of direct sunlight or indoors in a cool dry place. Pumpkins can last as long anywhere from three to six months, but will need to be used as soon as they start to soften.
How to use it: Once cooked, the pulp of pumpkin can be featured in a never-ending list of delicious meals and treats including pumpkins or waffles, muffins, breads, cookies, stews, soups and pasta dishes. And don’t forget those delicious seeds, which are traditionally roasted – how you choose to spice and flavour them is up to your imagination and personal preferences!
How to prep: Cut your pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and scrape out any stringy flesh.
Boil: Once you’ve cut your pumpkin in half, you can peel the skin using a potato peeler and then cut into smaller chunks, or cut it into big chunks, boil until the flesh can be pierced easily with a fork (but does not fall apart) and then remove the softened skin once cooled. Remember: larger pieces will take longer to cook. Once cooked, the chunks can be used whole or mashed or pureed.
For a wonderful roasted flavour: you can use the same method as used in butternut squash: place the pumpkin halves face down in a roasting pan, fill with ¼ inch of water and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. You should be able to easily pierce the flesh with a fork. Once cooked, scoop out the cooked pumpkin and mash or puree.
How to store: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 3 days or fill ice cube trays with pumpkin puree. Once frozen, remove cubes and store in an airtight container for up to three months for quick use in soups, smoothies or as baby food!
Do you have great pumpkin recipes? We'd love to hear about them. Share them below! Or, if you know friends who could step away from the mini-chocolate bars easier with some great pumpkin recipes...please share this blog with them.
Posted on October 24, 2011 | Filed under: Food Profile
It's convenient, it's tasty and it's really good for your baby. Why wouldn't you choose that?
Patsy, Jeff and baby Tenzin