A pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae (which also includes gourds). They typically have a thick, orange or yellow shell, creased from the stem to the bottom, containing the seeds and pulp. Pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use, and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers.
The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon, which is Greek for “large melon". The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and later American colonists changed that to the word we use today, "pumpkin". The origin of pumpkins is not definitively known, although they are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence, pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC, were found in Mexico.
Pumpkins, and their seeds, were a celebrated food of the Native American Indians who treasured them both for their dietary and medicinal properties. The cultivation of pumpkins spread throughout the world when the European explorers, returning from their journeys, brought back many of the agricultural treasures of the New World. While pumpkin seeds are featured in the recipes of many cultures, they are a special hallmark of traditional Mexican cuisine. Pumpkin seeds have recently become more popular as research suggests that they have unique nutritional and health benefits.
Pumpkins are a subset of winter squash. While we've become accustomed to thinking about leafy vegetables as an outstanding source of antioxidants, we've been slower to recognize the outstanding antioxidant benefits provided by other vegetables like winter squash. But we need to catch up with the times! Recent research has made it clear just how important winter squash is worldwide to antioxidant intake, especially so in the case of carotenoid antioxidants. From South America to Africa to India and Asia and even in some parts of the United States, no single food provides a greater percentage of certain carotenoids than winter squash. (In the United States, a recent study that has determined winter squash to be the number one source of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene among Hispanic men ages 60 and older living within the state off Massachusetts. And we've seen studies ranking foods from this Cucurbita genus at the top of the carotenoid list in Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies!)
The unique carotenoid content of the winter squashes is not their only claim to fame in the antioxidant department, however. There is a very good amount of vitamin C in winter squash (about one-third of the Daily Value in every cup) and a very good amount of the antioxidant mineral manganese as well. Recent research has shown that the cell wall polysaccharides found in winter squash also possess antioxidant properties, as do some of their phenolic phytonutrients.
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. In its native North America, it is a very important, traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed and making its way into soups and purees. Often, it is made into pie, various kinds of which are a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holidays. In Canada, Mexico, the U.S., Europe and China, the seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack. In the southwestern United States and Mexico, pumpkin and squash flowers are a popular and widely available food item. They may be used to garnish dishes, and they may be dredged in a batter then fried in oil.
Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as squash or zucchini. In the Middle East, pumpkin is used for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. In South Asian countries such as India, pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa. Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine. In Guangxi province, China, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. In Australia and New Zealand, pumpkin is often roasted in conjunction with other vegetables. In Japan, small pumpkins are served in savory dishes, including tempura. In Myanmar, pumpkins are used in both cooking and desserts (candied). The seeds are a popular sunflower seed substitute. In Thailand, small pumpkins are steamed with custard inside and served as a dessert. In Italy, it can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli. Also, pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin-producing states in the U.S. include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Sugar pie pumpkins are most commonly used for baking. Roast pumpkin, scoop out and puree cooked flesh, then combine with eggs, cream, sugar and spices and bake into pie. Fold pureed pumpkin into muffin or pancake batter. Dice pumpkin flesh into chunks, roast until tender then combine with cubed bread, cover with egg custard and bake into bread pudding. Cut stem top off pumpkin, clean inside and stuff with bread and cheese, then bake until tender. Sugar pie pumpkins will keep in cool, dry storage for up to a month.
Olive Oil Pumpkin Bread
Curried Pumpkin Soup
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