Pumpkin Cooking Pointers

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension image

Pumpkins are a familiar sign of fall. The large Jack-O-Lantern variety has become the national symbol for Halloween although it is very edible.

Pumpkins are the most popular members of the squash family. The bright orange color of pumpkins indicates it is loaded with the important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A and performs many important functions in overall health.

The smaller sweet pumpkin or pie pumpkin is best for cooking. Select heavy unblemished pumpkin that is free of cracks and soft spots and has a deep orange color. Moisture causes rapid deterioration. Whole unblemished pumpkin can be stored for 3 to 6 months at 45 to 50 degree temperatures. The rind can be removed either before or after cooking, but the pieces stay together better if cooked without peeling.

Peeling pumpkin can be a challenge to the novice. To open, place the pumpkin on newspaper and insert the tip of a chef knife or break it open by cracking on a hard surface. Scoop out the strings and seeds and discard, unless you plan to roast the seeds. Wash each section and use a sharp paring knife or vegetable to peel the large pieces. The pieces can be baked unpeeled as well.

Pumpkin pieces can be cooked until soft in a small amount of boiling water, in steam, or in a pressure cooker. The oven method is very easy. To bake, place cut side down on a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or longer. Test for doneness by piercing with a fork. When tender, remove from the oven and allow cooling. If unpeeled, spoon out the soft flesh and proceed with any recipe calling for cooked mashed pumpkin or substitute in recipes calling for canned pumpkin.

For microwaving, place cut side down and microwave on high for 15 minutes or until fork tender. At this point the pumpkin can be seasoned with cinnamon and brown sugar and served as a side dish with meals.

After cooking by any method, cool the pumpkin enough to handle and remove the peel using a small sharp knife. Put the peeled pumpkin in a food processor and puree or use a potato masher. Plan on about one cup of cooked pumpkin from each pound of uncooked pumpkin. Cooked pumpkin can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days, or frozen for later.

Many people are interested in how to roast pumpkin seeds during the fall months. Drying seeds and roasting seeds are two different processes.

To roast:

Separate seeds from the pumpkin flesh and strings. Wash them well and spread on paper towels to dry. Spread seeds evenly over a cookie sheet and place in oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes.

Spray seeds lightly with vegetable oil. Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit; brown seeds for five to 10 more minutes. If desired, sprinkle with salt, seasoned salt or salt substitute and serve hot or cold.

For milder flavor seeds, bring 1 quart of water with 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Add cleaned and sorted seeds; boil seeds for ten minutes.

Drain well and toss with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Roast at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir about every 10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with salt if desired.

Cool roasted seeds completely before packing in airtight containers or zip closure bags to store. Roasted seeds can be refrigerated until ready to eat.

To dry:

Carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging fibrous pumpkin tissue. Pumpkin seeds can be dried in a dehydrator at 115 to 120 degrees F for 1 to 2 hours, or in an oven on warm for 3 to 4 hours. Stir them frequently to avoid scorching.

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences