Eating Pumpkin and Squash
Pumpkins and squash symbolize autumn and harvest time. The sight of them, piled up and abundant, reminds us to be thankful for the fruit of the earth. They also taste great and are easy to prepare. They're so simple to store in your freezer that there's no need to ever buy canned pumpkin again. So next time you see these for sale at a farm market or a roadside stand, stop and buy a few. You won't be sorry.
You'll find squash in the supermarket all year round, but the time to buy local squash and pumpkins is in the fall. They are a long-season vegetable and take all summer to grow. You'll get better prices if you shop at fruit and vegetable stores or at the farmers' market. You'll get the best prices of all if you go for a drive in the country and buy directly from the farmers. Often there are roadside stands set up. Check the classified ads to get some addresses.
You might also check with your tourism information center. In our area, Circle Farm Tours are popular and brochures with maps are available. What a great way to spend an afternoon!
When I first got married, my mother-in-law told me how she cooked pumpkin. It sounded like so much work that I never tried it. Peeling a raw pumpkin is a thankless task.
Actually a pumpkin or squash is very easy to prepare. Wash the outside and dry it. Put it on a cutting board and use a heavy knife to cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon. Save these if you want to roast them. Bake the halves cut side down in a baking pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size and variety. That's it. So simple. You can even roast them whole and scoop out the seeds after, if the skin is hard to cut when raw. I usually don't choose this method because it's a little harder to separate out the seed pulp when the squash flesh is soft from being cooked.
Image Credit: Jack Kennard on Flickr. CC. Some Rights Reserved
After you've cooked and cooled the squash or pumpkin, scoop the flesh out of the skin with a metal spoon, or cut it into chunks and peel off the skin, whichever is easier. You can now put it in freezer bags and freeze it for winter eating.
Here's a tip. Measure the exact amount you need for your pumpkin muffin recipe, usually 1-1/2 or 2 cups. Put that amount in a medium freezer bag, press out the air as you seal it and flatten the bag into a rectangle. This way your bags of pumpkin and squash are easy to stack, take up much less space in the freezer, and thaw out quickly when you need one. Be sure write the measurement on the bag.
Some winter squashes are even more delicious than pumpkin in recipes so don't be afraid to substitute squash for pumpkin.
Buy squashes that seem to be ripe and do not have soft spots or damage. The skin should be hard. Wash them well and dry them. You can cook them right away, or spread them out in a cool, dry place where there is some air flow - a porch or garage, not a cupboard. Check at least once a week. On average you'll find they will keep for a couple of months this way. If you start to find any soft spots, process the fruit immediately. Cut out anything that is a little punky, cook the rest and freeze or use the pulp right away. That's a good sign that you should process the rest of your stored squash as well.
There are many kinds of winter squash. My favorites are butternut, delicata, buttercup and spaghetti squash.
This is one of the most unusual vegetables I have ever come across. To cook it, wash the squash and slice across the width so you keep the full circle shape. Scoop out the seed cavity and the soft, stringy material you find in there. Put both halves cut side down on a baking tray, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. You can also cook it in the microwave. Put one half of the squash cut side down on a microwavable dish such as a glass pie plate. Cook for about 11 minutes. Take it out of the oven and let it sit a few minutes longer, still cut side down, so the steam inside can cook it a bit more. Then use a fork to release and fluff the strands as you scoop them out of the shell.
Spaghetti squash as a side vegetable can be served with a little butter, salt and pepper. It's also a wonderful low-carb substitute for pasta. It tastes great with marinara sauce or pesto and cheese. Give it to someone who is gluten-intolerant, and they'll have a delicious meal. What's more, I've seen recipes for faux coconut cream pie made with spaghetti squash, although I can't say I've tried it myself.
Note: Lots of photos show spaghetti squash cut lengthwise, but if you want long strands of "spaghetti" you need to cut across the squash.
Image Credit: Zlatko Unger on Flickr. CC. Some Rights Reserved
Instead of tossing out the seeds, you can roast them. Using your fingers, separate the seeds from the pulp in a colander under running water. Soak the seeds in salt water overnight, then drain and pat dry. Bake, stirring several times, or microwave, stirring every one minute, until crispy. (For more information about soaking seeds and nuts in a salt water brine: Soaking Nuts)
Moist, tender, mouth-watering.
If you're in the mood for baking, pumpkin muffins are a great choice. There are so many classic recipes for pumpkin muffins and loaves that I'll leave it to you to search out your favorite. But to get you started, here's a recipe designed after the Starbucks cream cheese pumpkin muffins.
Also, here is a wheat-free, low-carb muffin recipe that makes a single jumbo muffin or mini-loaf: Individual Pumpkin Bread. I suggest that you substitute stevia for Splenda. This would be a good choice for someone who is gluten-intolerant.
Image Credit: Mlle. Peterson on Flickr. CC. Some Rights Reserved
This is a wonderful little recipe that I use every Thanksgiving and all through the fall and winter. We have a lot of diet restrictions in our extended family, so it's great to have a dessert that tastes like pumpkin spice but is low calorie, low carb, gluten-free and contains no sugar. And it's so much easier to make than pumpkin pie!
If you want to eat pumpkin, you'll buy a pie pumpkin or even a jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Miniature pumpkins are edible but the size makes them too fussy to cook with. Their real purpose? Decorating. They look wonderful in a basket or grouped on the table as a centerpiece.
Children love them too. They're great for crafts and autumn activities of all kinds.