Season's Pick

Pumpkins and Other Winter Squash

Pumpkin is the traditional Halloween squash. Children and adults alike delight in carving spooky faces onto these large orange globes once a year. The jack-o'-lanterns we create are thought to have originated in old England, where they were used as a means of thwarting evil spirits.

The other traditional use for pumpkin in the United States is as a filling for the well-known pie eaten at Thanksgiving. Native Americans ate pumpkin in many ways. Early Pilgrims soon learned to cook this squash, baking it with milk, spices and honey or maple syrup—possibly giving birth to today's pumpkin pie.

Nutritional Powerhouses

To be sure, pumpkin pie is delicious. There are, however, healthier ways to enjoy all the nutrients that pumpkin and other winter squash provide. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A. Acorn, butternut, hubbard and spaghetti squashes are all excellent sources of vitamins A and C. These antioxidant vitamins may help protect your health in several ways, such as warding off cancer, heart disease and the macular degeneration that can lead to sight loss. In addition, one-half cup of pumpkin gives you a whopping five grams of dietary fiber. Other winter squash provide a respectable three grams.

Produce that Can Hang Around

Choosing squash is easy. Opt for those that are firm, heavy, smooth and free of blemishes. Leave behind any that have spots of mold. It's okay to stock up on squash, because its thick skin allows it to be stored for long periods of time. There's no worry about using this fresh produce within a week—you can keep squash for at least a month in a dry, cool place. Acorn squash can be kept for at least three months, and hubbards up to six!

Makes More than Good Pie

There are many ways to prepare these delicious fall foods. Wash the skin, slice in half, scoop out the seeds and strings and bake in the oven until soft. Serve with a pat of butter, or brush with maple syrup. In a hurry? Your microwave can provide the same results in a fraction of the time.

Get creative by using cooked, puréed pumpkin or other squash in favorite recipes. Add flavor and boost nutrition by putting pumpkin into muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles. Try making a hearty squash soup. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and curry all complement the flavors of pumpkin and other winter squashes nicely. Cut cooked squash into cubes and serve in a grain dish. Or purée with orange marmalade for a sweet and nutritious spread for bread. You can substitute canned puréed pumpkin for fresh in recipes; just be sure the can you choose isn't pumpkin pie filling, which is pre-sweetened and seasoned.

Celebrate pumpkins and other squash with these FoodFit recipes:

Pumpkin Bisque
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Seeds
Nora Pouillon, Nora's, Washington, DC
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Barley, Mushroom and Winter Squash Risotto
Jimmy Schmidt, The Rattlesnake Club, Detroit, MI
St. Supery Pumpkin Pie
Sunny Cristadoro, St. Supery Winery, St. Helena, CA

This article was contributed by Catherine Macpherson, MS, RD


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