Pumpkins are versatile

Pumpkins can be used in many different ways and for different purposes.

One of the most popular uses for pumpkins is during the Halloween season when they are carved into Jack-O’-Lanterns, according to Michigan State University Extension. More recently, there has been an increased awareness of the versatility of cooking with pumpkins. Pumpkins can be steamed as a side dish, mixed with fruits, used in soups or salads, or made into cakes, breads, muffins, custards and, of course, pies. Pumpkin can be substituted for winter squash or sweet potatoes in recipes as well.  Pumpkins are low in calories and high in beta-carotene, or Vitamin A.

The best cooking varieties of pumpkins are small and heavy for their size, ranging about five to seven pounds.  Choose a pumpkin that feels firm and has consistent color throughout. Look for soft spots or open cuts that show damage or early spoilage.  Make sure the pumpkin has at least a one inch stem that is firmly attached.

Cut open the pumpkin before cooking and remove the seeds and stringy material.  Cut into wedges or halves. 

Boiling method:
Place wedges or halves in a large pot with water.  Bring water to boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer. Cook until you can pierce flesh easily with a fork.  Drain and let cool.  Peel the flesh from the skin. 

Steaming method:
Fill a large pot with 1-inch of water and place a steaming rack inside. Add the pumpkin pieces, cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and steam for 30 minutes or until tender.  Remove flesh from skin once pumpkin has been drained and cooled.

Oven baking:
Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 1 1/2 hours, or until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.  When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh.

The flesh can be mashed with a fork, potato masher or puree with a food processor or blender.  A five pound pumpkin will yield about 4 cups of mashed, cooked flesh.  Cooked pumpkin pulp can be frozen for several months. 

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds:
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1-2 teaspoons salt

Separate seeds from pumpkin pulp.  In a bowl coat seeds with oil, butter and salt.  Spread and bake on a baking sheet at 225 F until seeds are golden, crisp and dry; about 1 hour.  Stir frequently to prevent burning.

For more information on growing and preparing pumpkins, contact MSU Extension.

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