This time of year pumpkins begin to pop up everywhere and my mind has turned to how to choose the best pumpkin. But, you may ask, “for what?” That all depends on whether you are looking for that perfect jack-o’-lantern or that delicious homemade pumpkin pie.Pumpkins are native to North America and were used by Native Americans before the arrival of Columbus pretty much the same way they are used today — as both decoration and food. Different pumpkin species and varieties may be used in different ways, but knowing which is best for your specific purpose will give you the most successful outcome.
For most families, purchasing a pumpkin this time of year means pumpkin carving. Jack-o’-lantern pumpkin varieties possess a uniform color and shape that makes for easy carving. They have relatively little interior flesh (thin-walled) and a flat bottom so they can sit upright. While jack-o’-lanterns are excellent for carving, they may not be the best option for cooking.If you are interested in making your pumpkin pie starting with the pumpkin itself, choose one bred for best taste and texture for cooking. These might be referred to as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins.” Pie pumpkins look similar to jack-o’-lantern types, and indeed are the same species, but they are a variety selected for traits suitable for cooking. They tend to be smaller, darker orange and denser (heavier for their size), with a sweeter, less stringy flesh than a larger jack-o’-lantern type.
Another group of pumpkins to consider for fall cooking are blue-green pumpkins, with deep sutures and a somewhat bumpy texture. These include the so-called fairytale pumpkins, which look as if the wave of a magic wand will turn them into a carriage. The Fairytale pumpkins are very attractive pumpkins for display, with deep ribs and unique coloration, in shades of beige and green.Pure pumpkin, whether canned or homemade, is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene, an important antioxidant), vitamin C and potassium. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and helps protect against heart disease. Antioxidants also protect the body against the degenerative effects of aging.
So the question remains, is it worth the extra trouble to make your own pumpkin puree rather than buy in the can? Many people would say the freshness and taste is worth it. Canned pumpkin has all the health benefits of homemade puree, however. If buying canned pumpkin, make sure you are getting the pure pumpkin. “Pumpkin pie filling,” also available in a can similar to pure pumpkin, has higher salt and caloric content than pure pumpkin.One thing you get when you make your own pumpkin puree (or carve a jack-o’-lantern) is seeds! Cleaned and roasted in the oven, pumpkin seeds are a delicious and healthful snack or crunchy addition to a salad or soup.