In praise of pumpkins

March 1, 2017

Round and orange they grin and glow, unmistakable signs of fall.

iStock-494471334.jpgBut pumpkins don't shine only as jack-o'-lanterns. These nutritious golden stars of the harvest season—packed with fiber, potassium and vitamin A—have a long history of lighting up many a delish dish.

In times past, pumpkin was a Native American staple that was roasted over an open fire. And when colonists filled the plump orange gourds with milk, spices, and honey and baked them in hot ashes, it was the precursor of our classic Thanksgiving dessert.

The pie's not the limit

Today, pumpkin is in everything from summertime smoothies to specialty coffees that taste like autumn.

In fall and winter, try fresh pumpkin in:

  • Chili. 
  • Enchiladas. 
  • Pasta dishes.
  • Soups and stews. 
  • Stir-fries.

Be sure to pick a blemish-free pumpkin (labeled as sweet or pie) that's heavy and free of soft spots and has a 1- to 2-inch stem still attached. Peel it, cut it into cubes—and it's ready to cook.

Sound like too much work? Try plain, solid-packed canned pumpkin. It's as nutritious as fresh—and available year-round. The puree can add savory goodness to dips, breads, muffins, puddings and smoothies.

So whether you classify pumpkin as a fruit (as botanists do) or a veggie, carving out space for it in your menu can boost flavor and nutrition all year. And that's something to grin about.

Sources: American Institute for Cancer Research; Penn State Extension; Produce for Better Health Foundation; University of Illinois Extension

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