(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 21, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The United States Department of Agriculture has reported a steady increase in the value of pumpkin production over the past five years, from $81 million in 2003 to $117.5 million in 2007. The top-producing states in 2007 were Ohio, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and California.
Pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo, is a nutritious food to include in your garden and in your diet. Excellent quality, 100% pumpkin puree can be purchased canned, or can be freshly made at home; it has an excellent nutrition profile and is popular for culinary use, especially in pumpkin pie.
Varieties of Pumpkin
There are many varieties and sizes of pumpkin, including large (35 to 75 pounds) 'Amish Pie', small (4 to 6 pounds) 'Sugar Pie', which is sometimes listed as 'New England Pie', and even smaller, (1 to 3 pounds) 'Baby Bear' or 'Baby Pam'. 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin--convenient in size, good in flavor and texture--is the cultivar most marketed to consumers for use in making pumpkin pie. Large jack-o-lantern types are not recommended for use in pie; their flesh is not as desirable when cooked, and their large size makes them hard to cut and work with in the kitchen.
Delicious pies can also be made from sweet potato puree, or puree from many types of winter squash that can be substituted for pumpkin, including butternut (Cucurbita moschata), hubbard (Cucurbita maxima), cushaw (Cucurbita mixta), acorn (Cucurbita pepo), and Sunshine (Cucurbita maxima 'Sunshine Hybrid'), a space-saving kabocha squash variety.
There are several ways to cook pumpkin:
- pressure cooking
Oven roasting is my preferred cooking method, because it results in optimum flavor and nutrition. Roasting is a dry heat method that locks in the pumpkin's water soluble vitamins, while caramelizing the natural sugars on the surface of the flesh.
To avoid getting hurt from cutting a pumpkin (or winter squash) with a really tough outer rind, simply roast it whole until the skin is soft enough, then cut it. I had to resort to that last season when I purchased an unknown variety of pumpkin that was small in size and was impossible to cut through!
Easy steps to Roast Pumpkin (or winter squash)
A 5 pound sugar pumpkin will yield approximately 3 cups of cooked squash.
1) Line your baking sheet-pans(s) with aluminum foil.
2) Wash your pumpkin (or winter squash) to remove any dirt and bacteria from the surface. DRY well.3) On a cutting board, cut the pumpkin in half. Be very careful to avoid injury.
STOP trying to cut through the pumpkin if it is too hard, skip to step 6.
4) If you want to save the seeds for a nutritious snack or for future planting, scoop them out.
I often leave them in and roast the pumpkin seeds and all; they scoop out easier after roasting.
5) Rub the flesh of the cut side with olive oil or lightly spray with a non-stick spray and place cut side down on the baking sheet.
6) Roast for 50 minutes at 375°F (190°C)*, then check to see if the flesh against the foil is beginning to brown and caramelize. Baking time will vary depending on the variety and size of your pumpkin or squash.
* Whole pumpkin: if you had to bake the whole pumpkin, check after 30 min. to see if the skin is soft enough to cut. Return to step 3.
7) Cook longer if necessary, until you see browning around the edges. Turn the pieces over, and if you left the seeds in, you can now easily scoop them out with a spoon.
8) At this point the pumpkin is cooked. If you want to can the pumpkin, do not cook it too soft. The flesh can be cubed and preserved using a pressure canning process.
9) If you are going to mash and puree the pumpkin, you want it well done. If necessary, bake for another 25 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Let cool.
PRESSURE CANNING PUMPKIN
Dave's Garden member Shirley Edwards (Sesitz) from Fort Worth, TX cooks her pumpkin similarly to the steps above, only she places it cut side up on the baking sheet. After it is cooked and cooled, she says, "Remove the skin and cut it into one inch cubes and pack into sterilized jars. Add boiling water to 1/2 inch of jar top." She also adds salt*, then processes it in a weighted-gauge pressure canner at 10lbs pressure, 55 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. Shirley's method complies with the USDA's recommendation for the home canning of pumpkin. For product safety reasons, it should be noted that pureed or mashed pumpkin is NOT recommended for home canning.
* Salt is optional, added salt is not required.
10) If your puree is extra-watery, strain it to remove the excess water.
Occasionally a particular pumpkin or squash may have a high moisture content.
Store in airtight container(s).
Storing the Pumpkin Puree
Cooked puree should be refrigerated and used within a few weeks. If longer storage is preferred, pumpkin puree can be frozen. For best results, allow the puree to come to room temperature before using in recipes.
In America and Canada, pumpkin pie is a traditional, seasonal dessert served throughout the fall season and on Thanksgiving. Pie lovers appreciate it as a fun and nutritious substitute for cake on birthdays and other celebrations.
Make-your-own Pumpkin Pie Spice
Time saver Recipe
Dave's Garden member, (Sallyg) from Maryland, shares this time-saver tip using the ratio used by Libby's®. She says, "Combine 4 parts ground cinnamon, 2 parts ground ginger, 1 part ground cloves. Having the spices ready and pre-mixed for recipes calling for pumpkin pie spice is convenient."
Pumpkin Pie Spice Recipe: For one spice jar full, mix together: 4 tablespoons (27g) ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons (10.8g) ground ginger, 1 tablespoon (6.6g) ground cloves*.
* for even more depth-of-flavor try adding nutmeg and/or cardamom to the mix!
Recipe for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
Low in saturated fat, a good source of calcium, and a very good source of Vitamin A
Yields: one, 9 or 10 inch pie, serves 8
Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and gently mix together with a rubber spatula, or whisk until smooth and well mixed. Strain custard through a hand-held strainer directly into the pie shell to ensure the custard is smooth and creamy. Bake in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven for 45-50 minutes, or until set.
Nutrition Information (filling only, 125 g) - Per slice: 152 calories, 2.2 g total fat, 60.4 mg cholesterol, 151 mg sodium, 28.9 g total carbohydrate, 1.4 g dietary fiber, 5.1 g protein, 7362 IU vitamin A, 158 mg calcium.
Note: Keep in mind the crust can add a whopping amount of calories and fat! A reduced fat pasta frolla, wheat-free, or pie dough using oil rather than butter or shortening, makes delicious crust at the above recommended baking temperature.
Diana's Baking Tips
Many pumpkin pie recipes call for an initial cooking temperature that is too high, ranging from 400 to 425°F (200°C to 220°C) for 15 minutes before lowering the temperature. This is intended to set the crust, but may contribute to undesirable consequences for the custard filling. During baking, the eggs coagulate. Overheating the custard could cause syneresis, an expulsion of liquid from the gel of the custard that leaks out onto the surface of the pie.
For best results: 1) the pie should not be over-baked, and 2) the temperature should not exceed 375°F (190°C); I find 350°F (175°C) to be ideal.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin is low in fat, calories and sodium and contains many vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and beta carotene, and is a good source of dietary fiber. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of Vitamin K, which is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary in blood clotting.
The ideal serving size of pumpkin recommended for you and your family depends on your age, sex and physical activity level. For personalized portion suggestions from all food groups, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guidance web site: MyPyramid.gov.
There are two forms of fat-soluble vitamin A. Vitamin A can come from some fortified foods and from animal foods, such as liver and whole milk; it can also come from vegetable sources, such as: pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, red pepper, apricots, pink grapefruit and cantaloupe. Many green leafy vegetables are also excellent sources of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A helps to protect against infections and aides in healthy skin and vision; it plays a role in reproduction, cell division and regulation of the immune system to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses.
A percentage of the vitamin A we consume is in the form of carotenoids. Beta carotene is a cartenoid that has antioxidant benefits. Antioxidants protect our cells from harmful free radicals that play a role in degenerative processes, such as aging. Pumpkin and winter squash are high in beta carotene.
Since 1994, the Percent Daily Value (DV) of certain vitamins and minerals has been reported on product labels in the U.S. The DV is to educate consumers and serve as a guide to the percentages of dietary nutrients contained in the food. It can be useful when comparing nutrient contents between similar foods.
Percent DV is based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Foods containing 10-19% of the DV are considered a good source and 20% or more DV are considered an excellent source.
Nutrient data in the table shown (right), highlights nutrients above 5% DV in canned cooked pumpkin, without added salt.
Other pumpkin beneficial vitamins and minerals, not shown in the table, include: vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), calcium, vitamin B6, and folate.
Photo credits: "Falls Bounty" photograph and Sunshine hybrid squash photo, used with permission. Copyright © 2008 Lewis and Juelg, respectively. All rights reserved. All other photos copyright © 2008 Wind.
Special thanks to Bob Marcinkus, president of A&M Farm & Garden Center in Robbinsville, NJ, for allowing me to photograph sugar pie pumpkins on display at his market; DG member Shirley Edwards (Sesitz) for sharing her canning tips; DG member Melissa Lewis (Tombaak) for use of her "Falls Bounty" photo, which won 1st place in the DG 2007 photo contest in the fruit and vegetables category. And, thanks to master gardeners - Linda Juelg and Johanna Schmutz (home gardeners) for sharing their harvest of Sunshine hybrid and butternut squash, used in pies for this article.
 United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S. & All states Data - Pumpkins. Accessed Oct. 18, 2008.
 Medicine Plus ®, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the Nat'l Institutes of Health; Medical Encyclopedia: Vitamin A, Vitamin K. Accessed Oct. 21, 2008.
 Nat'l Institiute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet, Vitamin A and Carotenoids. Accessed Oct. 2, 2008.
 USDA Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory, Pumpkin Canned with out Salt. Accessed Oct. 20, 2008.
For Further Reading Enjoyment:
Winter Squash: Its History, Uses & Culture by Melody Rose
Put Your Own Seasonal Harvest on your Thanksgiving Table by Lois Tilton
Dave's Garden 2008 Pumpkin Theme-week Articles
What looks like a Shmoo and is edible? A Cushaw! by Darius Van d'Rhys
Miniature Pumpkins: Big Reasons to Grow this Tiny Beauty by Jeannette Adams
Fresh Pumpkin, Perfect for Pie! by Diana Wind
Pumpkin for Pets by Geoff Stein
The Pumpkin that grew itself by Jan Recchio
Beginner Pumpkins by Sally G. Miller
Growing Pumpkins & Winter Squash, Clemson Extension
Varieties of Pumpkin, University of Illinois Extension
Varieties & Nutrient Values of Winter Squash, CDC - Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention