Pump Up the Pumpkin!

Everyone likes a piece of pumpkin pie or warm, buttered pumpkin bread in the fall.

But how they turn that stinky, giant, orange gourd into a delicious, spicy treat seems like a mystery on par with that of the Great Pumpkin himself.

In fact, cooking with fresh pumpkin is simple and nutritious and can add a touch of fall to everything from desserts to sides to entrees.

The first rule is: Don’t plan on turning your Jack-o-lantern into a pie. The pumpkins typically used for cooking are smaller, less grainy and more flavorful than their giant counterparts. They aren’t just for centerpieces, you can actually eat them.

Cooking pumpkings, such as sugar pie pumpkins, are smaller, sweeter, and the flesh is less stringy than the field pumpkins which are used for jack-o-lanterns. And more than just Thanksiving pies, pumpkin is a healthy option for breads, soups, chili, dips, pumpkin fries, and breakfast items such as pumpkin pancakes. Cooking with fresh pumpkin creates a fresh, light flavor for desserts such as cheesecake.

Or simply cut it in half, save the seeds, and place both halves face down in a pan. Cover with foil and back at 375 degrees for about 90 minutes or until tender. Eat it baked, or puree it for use in recipes. Or it can be cut into wedges and boiled, then just remove the rind and puree.

However, fresh pumpkin usually has more water in it, so you will probably have to strain the pumpkin mash in a cheese cloth to release some of the water before using it in recipes.

It’s a good way to control the sugar and fat in your recipes while adding nutrition. Pumpkin is high in fiber and the dark orange squash is also loaded with beta-carotene and only 25 calories per serving when cooked. (Cooked alone, that is. Adding a flakey crust, condensed milk, sugar and a dollop of whipped cream does significantly increase the calorie count.)

When fresh pumpkin is out of season, use 100 percent pumpkin from a can – not the pie filling. When pumpkin is in season, the price of fresh versus canned is fairly comparable, but with whole pumpkin you also get seeds which can be roasted – it’s a two-for-one!

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