Monday, September 10, 2007

Spotlight on Produce: Pumpkin

Autumn is upon us! As we lead into 3 months of fall weather with Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, plan your festivities around the pumpkin, a healthy, delicious and versatile member of the squash family!

In fact, many of your squash recipes can be substituted interchangeably with pumpkin! For those who are interested in saving money, watch for pumpkins to go on sale, and then serve them up mashed with gravy, cooked into soup, baked with butter & salt & pepper, or candied like yams for a delicious dish high in fiber, potassium, and alpha and beta carotene.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.

Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed. They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Indians would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them. When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets. As today, early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups. The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.

Pumpkins and Halloween
The origin of Halloween dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced "sow-ain"). The festival was held starting at sundown on October 31st and lasted until sundown on November 1st. It was similar to the modern practice of the New Years celebration.

On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.

Samhain was not the name of a "Lord of the Dead", no historical evidence has ever been found to back this up, it was simply the name of the festival and meant "Summer's End". It was believed that the souls of the dead were closest to this world and was the best time to contact them to say good bye or ask for assistance. It was also a celebration of the harvest. It is still treated as such today by those who practice Wicca or other nature based religions. It has absolutely nothing to do with Satan, this inference was a creation of the Christian church.

When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in America they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in many ways ever since!

Fun Facts About The Pumpkin!

  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.

  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.

  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.

  • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.

  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.

  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.

  • The Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.

  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.

  • Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats.

  • Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm squash."

  • Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

Cooking With Pumpkins

Pumpkins can be used to make breads, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes and even main dishes! Soups and stews can be brewed or baked right in a pumpkin shell.

What is your favorite thing to do with pumpkins?


Jen said...

I am loving your blog! This is great stuff Jen, keep up the great posts. You Rock!

Jen said...

I just listed your blog on my little monster website and voted for you for Top 100 Cooking Sites. Love the recipes, thanks.