Cooking With Pumpkins
Although pumpkin pie is a long-time family favorite and a holiday tradition, pumpkins offer a much more diverse culinary experience than just pie. In fact, early American colonists, who were introduced to this new fruit (yes, it's a fruit, not a vegetable) by Native Americans, may have had it right from the beginning. They used it for soups, side dishes, and even beer. They also created a tasty dessert by slicing off the top of the pumpkin, scooping out the seeds, filling the pumpkin cavity with milk, spices and honey, and baking it in the hot ashes of a fire. It was the predecessor to today's holiday pie. And, what a great concept... no pans!
Nutritional Value of Pumpkins
Looking for a healthful, nutrition-rich food? You can hardly beat pumpkin! The beautiful orange color is a result of its high beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body and offers a wide range of health benefits--including a reduced risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer.
But the health benefits don't stop there. One cup of cooked pumpkin is just a mere 49 calories, but delivers protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, niacin, folate, and Vitamins A, C, and E. Pumpkin seed oil is also used as a dietary supplement to promote healthy prostate function. Pumpkin was prized in earlier times for its health benefits, too, when people relied on it to remove freckles and cure snakebites.
Cooking or Carving?
You can use the jack-o-lantern varieties for cooking and baking, but your best options are the smaller "pie pumpkins" or "sweet pumpkins." The flesh is sweeter and contains less water.
Other preparation methods: Steam the pumpkin for 10 to 12 minutes, bake it on a baking sheet (cut side down) at 350 degrees for about an hour, or even microwave it (cut side down) on high for 15 minutes or until tender. One pound of raw pumpkin will yield one cup of cooked pumpkin puree.
More Fun with Pumpkins
Most of us enjoy a good pumpkin-carving get-together, and some of us even attend pumpkin festivals across the United States to celebrate the pumpkin harvest. But the Society of Physics Students at California State University in Chico, CA, have their own special way of entertaining themselves at the pumpkin's expense. They host an annual S.P.S. Pumpkin Drop to re-enact Galileo's "Law of Falling Bodies" experiment, which he tested from the top of the Tower of Pisa. Each Halloween, one of the students dons Galileo garb and explains Galileo's law to bystanders who choose to witness this spectacle, while fellow students put the law into action by dropping pumpkins from the top of the college's library. Interesting idea, but maybe not something to tell the kids about...
Hot Drinks for the Holidays
Given their impact, warm beverages are extraordinarily easy to prepare. And if you take a moment to add a few spices, you'll create drinks that are especially festive and delicious.
The dessert recipes we’ve chosen meet the requirements for holiday hospitality. They're festive, a bit extravagant (or so they seem), and extraordinarily delicious.