A North American staple: Pumpkin

American Indians introduced the Colonists to a large orange squash with origins in Central and South America — the pumpkin. American Indians had used the pumpkin for food and medicine for centuries.

After being introduced to the pumpkin, the Colonists made the first pumpkin pies by filling a de-seeded pumpkin with milk, spices and honey and baking the “pie” in hot ashes. Stewed pumpkin was also a popular Colonial dish. The pumpkin provided much needed vitamin A, iron and potassium to the limited Colonial diets.

Today, the top pumpkin growing states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. Pumpkins are primarily grown for processing into cans of pumpkin puree. A small number of farms also grow pumpkins for ornamental sales.

Pumpkins flesh can be roasted and eaten like other winter squash such as blue hubbard, acorn and butternut squash. In addition to using the flesh of the pumpkin, the seeds of the pumpkin can be cleaned and roasted in the oven for a crispy and delicious snack.

Any pumpkin is edible, but the general rule of thumb is that the smaller the pumpkin, the sweeter and better for cooking the pumpkin is. Fall is the time of year to find pumpkins in the supermarkets and farmer’s market, and it’s certainly acceptable to purchase several pumpkins and store them in a cool, dry place like a basement or cellar.

Like other winter squash, pumpkins can be used for soups, breads, pies, stews, etc. It’s quite simple to prepare your own puree from a pumpkin. Cut a pumpkin in half. If you wish to roast the seeds, separate the seeds from the stringy pulp inside the pumpkin. Discard the pulp.

Peel and cut the pumpkin into chunks. Place the chunks in a large saucepan, cover with water and boil until the chunks are tender. After the chunks of pumpkin have cooled, puree them in a food processor or mash by hand. Puree can be used immediately or canned in a pressure cooker or frozen for later use. While store-bought canned pumpkin puree is suitable to use in pumpkin recipes, there is a better “fresh from the field” flavor in a vine-ripened pumpkin that is processed at home.

As you celebrate the holidays with your family, enjoy the goodness of a homegrown pumpkin. The pumpkin is a versatile vegetable that’s been a staple in the North American diet for many centuries.

Questions or comments about gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com.

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