Pumpkins, which are members of the gourd family, along with watermelon and squash, are an American pastime each fall.
In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were produced in this country in 2008, at a value around $141 million. While most families plan on getting a pumpkin this season, they are not always sure how to select a good one, or what to do once they have it home.
“Pumpkins are a sign that we are heading into the holiday season,” says John Kuropatwa, executive chef of Spigola Ristorante, located in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. “But what is so exciting is that they provide so many opportunities to create great dishes that we don’t have year-round. It’s really a special time of year.”
If you are in the market for a pumpkin, this season, keep the following shopping, usage and disposal tips in mind:
b Selecting. To pick a good pumpkin, opt for one that is mature, feels firm, and has a rich orange color. Avoid ones that have scars and cracks. You can check the firmness by pushing on it with your fingernail. If it is mature, it should not scratch with the pressure.
b Storing. Once you get the pumpkin home, you can store it for at least a month in a cool, dry place. If you want it to keep longer, you can take the pumpkin flesh out of its skin; it can then be frozen, dried or canned.
b Using. There are a variety of uses for pumpkins. Many people opt to carve them into jack-o-lanterns.
Others may decide to cook with them, which is a good option because they are loaded with antioxidants, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. They also provide fiber, potassium and calcium. Pumpkins can be baked whole in the oven. Just be sure to poke holes in it first and then, when it’s finished, remove the skin, seeds and membrane.
The seeds can be roasted in the oven by tossing with some oil and laying a single layer on a baking sheet for about 12-15 minutes at 250 degrees. Pumpkin can also be used to make pies, pancakes, muffins, soups and a variety of other tasty recipes.
A quick online search can net a wide array of pumpkin recipes. If you want to carve your pumpkin but still get some nutritional benefits, either carve it and toast the seeds, or opt to decorate it with non-toxic paint so you can still bake it afterward.
b Discarding. If you go the route of creating a jack-o-lantern, this season, you may be wondering what to do with it once the festivities have moved on. Composting it makes a great option if you or someone you know has a garden. You can also check into donating it to local animal farms, or see if your city is collecting them for recycling purposes.
“No autumn would be complete without the great pumpkin,” adds Kuropatwa.
“They are so versatile and fun to work with. Even the kids can get in on selecting and using them. It’s truly a family activity.”