Eat your jack-o-lantern?

Kids love Halloween, costumes and carving pumpkins. Extend the fun by serving dinner in a pumpkin. This meal could be made ahead and served before the goblins go out trick-or-treating or have it in the oven while passing out treats at home.  I made this for family friends a couple of years ago and they still talk about the time I put a pumpkin on the table.

Get the kids involved in this meal. Make it a family outing to select the pumpkin or pumpkins.  The large round pumpkins that make great jack-o-lanterns are not the best for eating, they are usually stringy and tasteless. Smaller flatter pumpkins are best for cooking. Look for  sugar,  pie pumpkin or cooking pumpkins.

I could only find small orange pie pumpkins at our farmer’s market. There was also a hybrid pumpkin variety called a Buck Skin. This was a tan  on the outside rather than orange but bright orange inside.  This is one of the varieties of  pumpkins used by commercial canneries use to make canned mashed pumpkin and pie filling.  So, it’s a great eating pumpkin.

A word of caution when it comes to selecting pumpkins to fill for a meal. Don’t get one that’s too big.  It might not fit in your oven or may be too heavy once filled.  If you can’t find a nice medium-sized cooking pumpkin, you might want to go with individual smaller pumpkins.  Everyone could have their own pumpkin for dinner.

It may be tempting to try to do “double duty” with a pumpkin, to first have it as a jack-o-lantern and then make it into a pie. Let’s not go there. Like any other food, once it has been cut, pumpkin needs to be kept refrigerated. You should plan to eat or refrigerate pumpkin the same day you cut into it. You could use the whole pumpkins for yard decorations, just don’t cut them until you’re ready to cook them.

The bright orange color is a dead give-away that pumpkins are full of important nutrients and antioxidants and beta-carotene. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient for proper health of eyes, respiratory tract, skin and tooth enamel.

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Tips for making a meal in a pumpkin:

  • Make a recipe of your favorite soup, chili or meal-in-one casserole.  Cook that recipe almost complete.
  • Wash the outside of the pumpkin. Cut off the top as if you were making a jack-o-lantern and thoroughly clean out the seeds and strings, leaving the pumpkin shell.  This can be a great job for the kids.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon the hot filling into the cleaned pumpkin shell, replace pumpkin top and place entire pumpkin with filling on a baking sheet in oven.
  • Bake for 1 hour or until pumpkin is tender.
  • Carefully place the pumpkin on a serving platter (this may be difficult or impossible if your pumpkin is very large.) Remove the pumpkin lid and serve the contents. For your vegetable, scoop out the cooked pumpkin and serve.
  • Add a cold glass of milk and toasty bread and this provides a complete meal.

Food safety notes:

  • The soup, chili or casserole should be hot and almost completely ready to eat when put into the pumpkin shell. 
  • Do not put raw ingredients, especially meats or poultry into the pumpkin shell, the heat will not penetrate the hard shell enough to cook these items.
  • Ingredients such as rice that need a long cooking time should be almost tender when placed inside the pumpkin.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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updated on 07-19-2018