Pumpkins are found just about everywhere in the fall months…in grocery stores, at farm markets, on front porches, on dining room tables, among displays in many stores, and other places too! They are one of the things that makes Fall seem like Fall. And who doesn’t love pumpkin pie? So, if you were enticed to buy a fresh pumpkin, but just aren’t sure what to do with it beyond carving or making a pie, here is some help! Check out the info below, and surely you’ll be able to find some different way to include pumpkin in your holiday meals, especially if you’re looking for something other than pie. I hope this helps!
Pumpkin 101 – The Basics
Pumpkins are members of the gourd family. So they are cousins to watermelon, muskmelons, and summer and winter squash. Their nutritional profile makes them similar to many vegetables and we typically consider pumpkin to be a vegetable. However, they are technically a fruit since they contain seeds. They come in a variety of colors including green, yellow, red, white, blue, multicolored, and more. Pumpkins also come in a variety of shapes including very tiny to very large (needing a forklift to be moved), squat, tall, short, round, and pear-shaped. Some pumpkins are best for eating, while others are best for carving or just used for display.
Pumpkins are native to North Americas, so Native Americans were very familiar with them and used every part of the pumpkin. The flesh was roasted, boiled and dried. The seeds were eaten and used as medicine. The pumpkin blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin was stored for winter food or ground into flour. The shells were dried and used as bowls or storage containers.
The seeds of pumpkin are edible, delicious and nourishing. They are often salted, dried or toasted and eaten as a snack or included in baked goods, cereals, granola, salads, and more.
Pumpkin is a highly nutritious food. It is especially high in beta-carotene, a Vitamin A precursor. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 245% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin A. That same cup of cooked pumpkin also has substantial amounts of protein, Vitamin C, potassium, copper, manganese, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin E, and even iron. One cup of cooked pumpkin has a mere 49 calories.
Pumpkin contains a lot of antioxidants, which are known to help neutralize harmful free-radicals in the body. This action helps reduce our risk for cancer, heart disease, eye diseases, and other chronic diseases. Furthermore, the nutritional profile of pumpkins (especially their content of Vitamins C, A, and E) helps to boost the immune system so it can fight infections faster and more efficiently. The Vitamin A content of pumpkin helps to protect the eyes from the leading cause of blindness in the world (Vitamin A deficiency). The lutein and zeaxanthin in pumpkins help protect eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. The antioxidants found in pumpkins are known to lower the risks specifically for stomach, throat, pancreas and breast cancers. If all this isn’t enough, the nutrient profile of pumpkins, especially their beta-carotene content helps to promote healthy skin!
Pumpkin seeds have their own health benefits, so many people include them in their diets on a regular basis. Most pumpkin seeds purchased at stores are called “pepitas” and don’t have the hard white shell that is found on most seeds removed from fresh pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds are rich in a variety of nutrients including protein, healthy fats, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, Vitamin K, and zinc. Pumpkin seeds are also high in antioxidants known to help reduce inflammation and our risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and they even have antimicrobial effects and improve our quality of sleep.
So, with all the wonderful benefits of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, when you’re shopping for a pumpkin to carve or add to your fall decor, why not include one or two for you to cook and eat during the season too! Your body will thank you for it.
How to Select a Pumpkin
While any pumpkin is edible, some are better for eating, while others are best simply for display or carving. The pumpkins best for eating are sweet, flavorful, and have a smooth-textured flesh. Pumpkins that are best for display will be bland, watery, and have stringy flesh. Since pumpkins are usually not labeled according to their technical names, the easiest way to choose a pumpkin that will taste good is to opt for one labeled as a “sugar pumpkin” or “pie pumpkin.” Avoid any with soft spots or bruises, and choose one that seems heavy for its size.
How to Store Pumpkins
If you have a fresh pumpkin that you need to keep for a while, store it in a cool, dry place. Allow air flow around it, so do not rest it against another pumpkin or object. About 50°F is best for long-term storage of a fresh, cured pumpkin. Hence, your garage may be a good place to keep it. But, do not store them below 45°F, as that is too cold, and they may soften and rot. When stored properly, fresh pumpkins should keep for two or three months.
How to Roast, Freeze and Dry Fresh Pumpkin
First, and VERY importantly, if you have carved your pumpkin and allowed it to sit as a display piece, it should not be eaten. Bacteria and mold will most likely have developed in the flesh, even if you can’t see it. It would not be safe to eat. Such pumpkins should be composted or discarded in some way.
Roast: Fresh pumpkin is really not hard to preserve for later. First it needs to be cooked. Roasting fresh pumpkin is simple. Just wash it well, pat it dry, then cut it up (carefully so you don’t hurt yourself!) and remove the seeds with a spoon. Lay the pieces, cut side down, on a baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, although this is not absolutely mandatory). There is NO need to coat the pumpkin with oil or anything else. Place the baking sheet into a 400°F oven and allow it to roast until a sharp knife can be inserted easily into the flesh. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool some until it can be handled. Scoop out the flesh and puree it in a food processor, if desired.
Freeze: Place measured amounts of pumpkin puree (so you’ll know how much you have when you go to use it) into freezer containers or bags and store in the freezer. Frozen pumpkin puree will keep for about one year.
To thaw pumpkin puree, it can be removed from the freezer and allowed to rest on the counter for up to one hour. At that point it should be ready to use. To speed things up, it could be removed from the freezer bag (which may involve ripping the bag) and placed in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on defrost until it is soft enough to use. Also, you could place your container or bag of frozen pumpkin puree into a pan of hot tap water to thaw it out. Refresh the water as it cools down. I do not recommend heating the water on the stove because your freezer container or bag may not be intended for such high heat, which might leach plastic chemicals into your food.
Dehydrate: Roasted pumpkin puree can also be dried into a pumpkin leather, if you have a dehydrator. Spread the puree onto solid dehydrator trays and dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Fresh pumpkin can also be blanched rather than roasted before being dehydrated. Cut fresh pumpkin flesh (shell removed) into ¼-inch thick slices, or small cubes. Blanch slices or cubes in boiling water for 3 minutes. Grated fresh pumpkin can also be blanched for 30 seconds before being frozen. Remove the blanched pumpkin from the water and immediately cool it in a bowl of ice water. Drain well and place on appropriate dehydrator trays. Follow the directions that came with your dehydrator for time and temperature for drying the pumpkin. Store dehydrated pumpkin in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Placing an oxygen absorber in the jar will help ensure its longevity.
Fresh vs Canned Pumpkin
Fresh: Of course, fresh pumpkin is seasonal and only available in the fall months. It takes a little effort to prepare it and preserve it for later use. However, its health benefits are worth the effort and its versatility allows it to be used in many dishes from breakfast to suppertime desserts. Preserved fresh pumpkin is often somewhat light in color when compared to canned pumpkin. The variety of pumpkin affects the color.
Canned: Canned pumpkin is available year-round and is an excellent choice if you want to enjoy pumpkin during the off seasons and you have no preserved pumpkin on-hand. A specific variety of pumpkin (the Dickinson pumpkin) is usually used for commercially canned pumpkin. This type is deep orange in color, so commercially canned pumpkin is usually darker in color than pumpkins that we buy and preserve ourselves. The Dickinson pumpkin is grown specifically for canning, cooking and baking since their flesh is creamy and sweet, and not stringy nor watery. These pumpkins are grown specifically for the Libby Company, so you will probably not find them in your local market. The closest we can come is to purchase a fresh pumpkin labeled as a “pie” or “sugar” pumpkin.
When shopping for canned pumpkin, be sure to read the ingredients list and pick one that lists only pumpkin as the ingredient. Some options may be a mixture of squash and pumpkin, which in itself may not bad. But some may have added salt, which you might need to avoid. Also, unless you’re really needing the added convenience, avoid the pumpkin pie “mix” which has added sugars and flavorings. Yes it’s convenient, since you just open the can, pour it into a pie shell, and bake. But it may not have the flavor you’re looking for, and it may have some unwanted ingredients. It’s not that hard nor time consuming to add your own ingredients to make your favorite pumpkin pie. This option allows you to control what goes into your pie, avoiding unwanted additives, and adjusting the seasonings as preferred.
Comparison Tests: According to the writers at https://www.handletheheat.com/fresh-vs-canned-pumpkin/ who conducted a taste test comparing the flavor and texture of fresh vs regular canned vs canned organic pumpkin puree, the flavor of fresh pumpkin puree was superior to that of either version of canned pumpkin. When comparing the texture of the three types of pumpkin, the fresh also was the most desirable with the canned organic pumpkin being the least desirable. The three types of pumpkin were also compared when baked into a pie. The fresh pumpkin rated best regarding flavor and texture, with the traditional canned pumpkin being a close second. The organic canned pumpkin came in last in their ranking. So with all things considered, it looks like fresh is best in this case, with traditional canned pumpkin ranking second, and organic canned pumpkin placing last.
How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin
Fresh pumpkin should first be washed well to remove any dirt or debris that may be sticking to the shell. Then pat it dry and place it on a sturdy cutting board that won’t move around as you use it. With a very sharp knife, cut the pumpkin into pieces. Large pieces are fine. Remove the seeds with a spoon and discard them or reserve them for roasting. Roasting the pumpkin is easy and will yield the most flavor in your finished product. See the instructions for roasting pumpkin in the “How to Preserve Pumpkin” section above.
Fresh pumpkin can also be boiled. The result will be a more watery flesh with less flavor than roasted pumpkin. To boil your pumpkin, cut the pumpkin as directed above, but into somewhat smaller pieces. With a paring knife, remove the outer shell from each piece (or leave the shell on and remove it after the pieces have been boiled). Place the cut pumpkin in a large pot of boiling water and allow it to boil until fork-tender. The length of time will depend upon the size of the pieces. Drain well and remove the flesh from the shell if it was not done already. Straining boiled pumpkin through cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a nut milk bag can help to remove excess water. Use as desired.
How to Roast Fresh Pumpkin Seeds
Many people enjoy roasted pumpkin seeds. So, if you have a fresh pumpkin, then why waste the seeds? Place the seeds along with their strings from the pumpkin into a colander and place that in a large bowl of water. With your hands, carefully remove the strings and discard them. Remove the colander and allow the seeds to drain well. Transfer the seeds to a rimmed baking sheet. Remove any remaining strings or bits of pumpkin flesh and spread the seeds around the baking sheet. Allow the seeds to air dry overnight. The next day, toss the seeds with a light coating of olive oil, melted butter or coconut oil, and sprinkle with your seasoning of choice. Roast at 300°F for 30 to 45 minutes, until lightly toasted and crispy. Enjoy!
Optional seasonings for pumpkin seeds (use any one or combination you prefer): Salt, garlic salt (optional…toss with a teaspoon of vinegar after roasting for a salt and vinegar flavor), cinnamon and sugar, garam masala (then add raisins after they come out of the oven), smoked paprika (then toss with slivered almonds after the seeds are roasted), grated Parmesan and dried oregano or Italian seasoning, or a mixture of brown sugar, chili powder, and ground cumin.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Pumpkin
Pumpkins are a favored item during the fall months. Whether we enjoy them purely as decoration, or include them in a variety of treats, they are loved by many. If you have extra pumpkin on hand, whether it be canned or fresh, here are some ideas for ways to use it up. Enjoy!
* Make pumpkin puree with your fresh pumpkin. It freezes well and will keep for later use in soups, muffins, pancakes, or whatever you like. Simply cut your pumpkin up and remove the seeds. Place the pieces on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake it at 400F until a fork or knife can easily be inserted into it. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool some. Remove the pulp from the shell and puree it in a food processor. Scoop measured amounts into freezer bags, label, flatten, and freeze for later. Frozen pumpkin puree should keep for up to 12 months.
* Enjoy a pumpkin smoothie. Add one banana, some yogurt or milk of choice, some pumpkin puree, some sweetener (if desired), and a little pumpkin pie spice (or some cinnamon and a pinch of ground ginger) to your blender. Blend until smooth and enjoy!
* Add toasted pumpkin seeds to a salad, soup, trail mix, granola, or just enjoy them as a snack.
* Add a little pumpkin puree and some cinnamon and nutmeg (or pumpkin pie spice) to your morning oatmeal for a pumpkin oatmeal breakfast.
* Did your smoothie come out a little too thick? Transfer it to a bowl and top it with something crunchy or chewy like chopped walnuts, flaked coconut, slivered almonds, hulled hemp seeds, or cocoa nibs. Spoon it up and enjoy!
* Make easy pumpkin pancakes by adding some pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice to your favorite pancake batter. Cook as usual. Sprinkle with a little extra cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice for added flavor.
* Make your own pumpkin pie spice by combining 4 Tbsp ground cinnamon, 4 tsp ground nutmeg, 4 tsp ground ginger, and 3 tsp ground allspice. Store in an airtight container.
* Make a quick pumpkin butter. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon clove, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat and stir until all ingredients are combined and smooth. Add 1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree. Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring constantly until everything is combined and smooth. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking. Store in a small container in the refrigerator.
* Make an easy pumpkin dip by blending together ¾ cup soft cream cheese, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, ½ cup pumpkin puree, 2 tsp maple syrup, and ½ tsp ground cinnamon. Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with sliced apples or pears, waffle sticks, vanilla cookies, ginger snap cookies, graham crackers, pita crisps, pie crust cookies, and even carrot and celery sticks!
Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Pumpkin
Allspice, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry leaves and curry powder, fennel seeds, garam masala, ginger, lemongrass, mace, mint, mustard seeds, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, vanilla
Other Foods That Go Well With Pumpkin
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans, beef, cashews, chestnuts, chicken, chickpeas, hazelnuts, nuts (in general), peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pork, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Carrots, celery, chiles, chives, fennel, garlic, greens, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radicchio, root vegetables, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini
Fruit: Apples, apple cider, apple juice, coconut, cranberries, lemon, lime, orange, pears, pineapple, plantains, plums (dried), quinces, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Breadcrumbs, corn, couscous, graham cracker crumbs, millet, oats, pasta, rice, wild rice
Milk and Non-Dairy: Butter and browned butter, cheese, coconut milk, cream (and whipped cream), milk, vanilla ice cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Brandy, caramel, chocolate (dark and white), cognac, honey, maple syrup, mustard, oils, rice syrup, rum, soy sauce, sugar (esp. brown), vegetable stock, vinegar, wine (white)
Pumpkin has been used in the following foods and cuisines…
American cuisine, baked goods (bread puddings, breads, cookies, muffins, pies, quick breads, scones), cheesecake, custards, gratins, pancakes and waffles, pastas (cannelloni, gnocchi, orzo, ravioli, tortellini), pies, puddings, risottos, soufflés, soups, Southeast Asian cuisines, stews, stuffed mini-pumpkins
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Pumpkin
Combine pumpkin with…
Allspice + cinnamon + ginger + orange + vanilla
Almonds + raisins
Apples + cilantro + curry + leeks
Brown sugar + cinnamon + cloves + ginger + nutmeg + orange + walnuts
Cardamom + cinnamon + cloves
Chickpeas + cilantro + garlic + ginger + lemongrass
Cinnamon + cloves + coconut milk + ginger + nutmeg + vanilla
Cinnamon + ginger + maple syrup + pecans
Cinnamon + ginger + oatmeal + raisins
Cinnamon + maple syrup
Cream cheese + graham cracker crumbs + orange
How to Roast Fresh Pumpkin (video…Judi in the Kitchen) https://youtu.be/eQnRbrEmKkw
Pumpkin Pie (My Bakery Recipe…Judi in the Kitchen) https://www.judiklee.com/2015/11/10/pumpkin-pie-my-bakery-recipe/
Apple Pumpkin Thai Soup https://producemadesimple.ca/apple-and-pumpkin-thai-soup/
Roasted Pie Pumpkins with Wild Rice, Apple, and Kale Stuffing https://producemadesimple.ca/roasted-pie-pumpkins-with-wild-rice-apple-kale-stuffing/
Roasted Pumpkin Soup https://producemadesimple.ca/roasted-pumpkin-soup/
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spice Muffins http://www.familyfeedbag.com/2014/10/whole-wheat-pumpkin-spice-muffins.html
Vegan Pumpkin Waffles https://thevietvegan.com/vegan-pumpkin-waffles/
Pumpkin Butter from Scratch https://ohsheglows.com/2012/09/11/all-natural-pumpkin-butter-from-scratch-many-ways-to-use-it/
Pumpkin Butter https://www.fifteenspatulas.com/homemade-pumpkin-butter/
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie for 2 https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/244840/pumpkin-pie-smoothie-for-2/
Pumpkin Squares https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/15236/pumpkin-squares/
Easy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235257/easy-pumpkin-chocolate-chip-bread/
One Bowl Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Bread Recipe https://beamingbaker.com/one-bowl-gluten-free-vegan-pumpkin-bread-v-gf-df/
Healthy Pumpkin Pancakes https://whatmollymade.com/healthy-pumpkin-pancakes/#wprm-recipe-container-8372
Vegan Pumpkin Alfredo Noodles https://www.simplyquinoa.com/vegan-pumpkin-alfredo-noodles/
Skinny Pumpkin Protein Cookies https://www.kimscravings.com/skinny-pumpkin-protein-cookies/#wprm-recipe-container-25688
Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal https://joyfoodsunshine.com/pumpkin-baked-oatmeal/#wprm-recipe-container-8724
Pumpkin Hummus https://selfproclaimedfoodie.com/pumpkin-curry-hummus/
Pumpkin Smoothie Bowl https://thealmondeater.com/pumpkin-smoothie-bowl/#wprm-recipe-container-16770
Roasted Pumpkin Apple Soup https://aseasyasapplepie.com/roasted-pumpkin-apple-soup/#wprm-recipe-container-12369
Flourless Pumpkin Muffins https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2015/09/21/flourless-vegan-pumpkin-muffins/
Pumpkin Oat Bars https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/234725/pumpkin-oat-bars/
MacKenzie, Jennifer, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer. (2015) The Dehydrator Bible. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.