Pumpkin Ideas for Halloween and Beyond

Cheryl Sullivan is here with a perfect pumpkin update!

Pumpkin FunDid you know that a single 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin provides 4 grams of fiber, no fat or cholesterol, and only 50 calories? Pumpkin also has more beta-carotene per serving than any other common food. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, and that may protect against heart disease and some cancers.

Let’s Talk About Fresh Pumpkins

Fresh pumpkins are available from late summer to well into the fall. Small sugar (a.k.a pie) pumpkins are the best for eating, though you can eat the large ones, too. Be sure the pumpkins are clean and dry, then store them a cool, dry, and dark place. Pumpkins may last for several months, depending on the storage conditions.

Cooking with Pumpkins

To prepare a pumpkin for cooking, cut off the top. Flip it over and cut a thin slice off of the bottom. That way, the pumpkin will sit flat on your cutting board. Using a large knife, cut slices of the skin off from top to bottom, working your way around the pumpkin, just like you would cut the skin off of an orange. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, then cut the pumpkin into chunks.

To make pumpkin puree, steam those pumpkin chunks until they’re quite tender. Drain them, then puree in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, mash them as fine as you can with a potato masher. Press the mixture through a fine sieve or coffee filter and voila! Pumpkin puree is yours.

You can also bake unpeeled, seeded pumpkin halves at 325° until tender. This takes about 1 hour. Scoop the flesh out of the shell and puree it. Since this puree will be drier than the puree in the other method, you won’t need to drain it.

All homemade pumpkin puree may be frozen for up to six months.

You can also make pumpkins into a tasty side dish. Cut a peeled, fresh pumpkin into cubes and toss the cubes with 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate, and a dash of nutmeg. Put the whole shebang into a baking pan coated with cooking spray and roast in a 400° oven for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.

Make a delicious and speedy pumpkin soup by heating 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin with 1 can of low-sodium broth, 1/2 cup of water or skim milk, and 1 teaspoon of mild curry powder. Heat the whole thing in a saucepan and serve warm.

You can even use pumpkin puree to make your own quick pumpkin ice cream. Soften 1 pint nonfat vanilla ice cream, then fold in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 2 tablespoons sugar (or artificial sweetener), and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Refreeze, then scoop into 4 dishes to serve.

What About Canned Pumpkin?

Canned pumpkin puree is easy to use and works very well in recipes. Be sure to purchase plain pumpkin and not the pie filling. Pumpkin pie filling is loaded with sugar and other ingredients. Read the label carefully to see which one you are buying.

What are you doing with pumpkins this year?

By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

Looking for other seasonal resources? Check out the holiday materials in the Nutrition Education Store! My personal favorites include…

Holiday Survival Tips Poster

Holiday Challenge Toolkit

Holiday Exercise Poster

Pumpkin all around us

IMGP1508It’s undeniably fall.  No, it’s not the shorter days, turning leaves or cooler nights that let me know. It’s pumpkin.  It seems that pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING have popped out of everywhere.  It was hardly past Labor Day when I started seeing promotions for pumpkin coffee, pumpkin donuts, cookies and cakes, pumpkin coffee creamer and even pumpkin yogurt.

I don’t have anything against pumpkin.  Actually I rather like this iconic fall flavor. But this is ridiculous. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that most of these items don’t really have pumpkin in them.

I have a friend who owned a bulk food store. She had a pumpkin pudding and  pie filling mix that everyone loved.  At closer look we found that the mix did not contain any pumpkin at all…just the sweet spices of nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cinnamon that are frequently used with pumpkin…it gave the “hint” of pumpkin pie to the pudding.  If you really wanted to make a pie  they suggested adding mashed pumpkin to the pudding .  Isn’t it amazing what our taste buds and the sense of smell can make you believe?

But, not all of the pumpkin foods are “smoke and mirrors”…or should I say “spice and herbs”? I did find some yogurt with real pumpkin added as the second ingredient and pancakes that had pumpkin in them, too. Good for them!   IMGP1637

In addition to the flavor, adding real pumpkin to foods could be a super nutrition boost. Pumpkin has Vitamin A and lots of it.  The Produce for Better Health Foundation says that just 3/4 cup of cooked pumpkin contains 130% of your daily value for Vitamin A and only 25 calories.  

You can add this classic fall flavor to your own beverages, baked goods and menu with “real” mashed pumpkin.  If you want to be “authentic” select a from your farm market or grocery.  Be sure it’s a pie pumpkin, not one grown for Jack-O-Lanterns, they are usually smaller,  meatier and less stringy.  IMGP1632

Pumpkin can be simply prepared by placing slices on a cookie sheet and roasting  in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized (varies with thickness of slices). Remember to wash the outside rind before cutting and to save the seeds for roasting. 

You can sprinkle the pumpkin with spices before baking or just let the pumpkin flavor come out.  The cooked pumpkin could be eaten as a vegetable or mashed to be added in other recipes.IMGP1669

Just want some quick mashed pumpkin?  They can also be prepared in the microwave (see the recipe for spaghetti squash.

Canned mashed pumpkin is easy and works well in recipes, too, when real pumpkins are not available.  If you’re wanting to preserve pumpkin, the National Center for Home Food Preservation cautions against canning mashed pumpkin .  They recommend canning cubed pumpkin or freezing the mashed pumpkin.

Create your own fall pumpkin specialties. Here are a few recipes ideas from the Food and Health Communications files to get you started.

 April Fool Chili http://foodandhealth.com/recipes.php?id=105

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal http://foodandhealth.com/recipes.php?id=135

Pumpkin Apple Butter http://foodandhealth.com/recipes.php?id=276

Easy Pumpkin Pudding http://foodandhealth.com/recipes.php?id=131

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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.


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