Pumpkins and their sister squashes can be cooked into dishes of every sort

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Although this time of year we tend to think of it foremost as an entertaining cut-up, the pumpkin continues to carve out a niche as a most versatile food.

You'll find it in fare ranging from American Indian to East Indian, from hors d'oeuvres to breakfast, in dishes that might make you pie-eyed if you only think of pumpkin as Thanksgiving dessert.

Many folks know that most commercially prepared "pumpkin" actually is winter squash (Libby's uses a tan-skinned oblong Dickinson pumpkin that looks like a butternut squash). But it's all the same gourdy family, Cucurbitaceae. Most winter squash -- butternut, Hubbard, kabocha, etc. -- can be used interchangeably.

You can, but you probably don't want to, cook with the big Jack-o-lantern type, because the flesh is stringy and the flavor not so good. But you can cook with the cute little pie or "sugar" pumpkins.

Pennsylvania is the No. 3 pumpkin-growing state, with 7,700 acres covered in the vines, according to the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program. Its annual "Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious" Vegetable Recipe Contest includes a Winter Squash/Pumpkin category. This year's finalists included Pumpkin Nachos, submitted by Bonnie Mortimer of Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County.

In her new cookbook, "A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash" (Chronicle, $15.95), Lou Seibert Pappas writes, "Today, winter squash have come back into the spotlight, rejoining summer squash as beloved vegetables suitable for steaming, roasting, sauteing and pureeing. Besides having deep flavor, the rich source of nutrients -- in particular beta-carotene -- is a key to the upswing in popularity for winter squash," which also are getting more publicity thanks to the eat local/farmers market trends.

The fresh fruits -- that's what they are, not vegetables -- are beautiful this time of year. But for eating, many cookbook authors and cooks agree: Canned pumpkin is just as good and a lot easier.


First Published October 30, 2008 4:00 AM

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