What is a pumpkin?
The sweet flesh of pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that is just as tasty mashed with butter as it is when offset by the heat of chilli, pungent fenugreek, turmeric and cumin in a South Asian curry. Like other brightly coloured vegetables, pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamins and is an excellent way to add colour to children’s meals.
Pumpkins have been cultivated for more than 5000 years. They are believed to have originated in Central America. Pumpkin seeds were carried by explorers and nomadic tribes and eventually spread to Asia and Europe.
In Australia, pumpkins are usually sold by variety. They range in skin colour and size. For example, butternut pumpkins are pear-shaped with golden brown skin, whereas the Jap (or Kent) pumpkin is squat with mottled green and yellow skin and the common Queensland Blue is large with blue-grey ribbed skin.
Smaller varieties include the Sweet Dumpling, Golden Nugget and Orange Minikin, while large varieties include the round-shaped Jarrahdale, Aussie and Japanese pumpkins.
The large, round, dark orange Halloween pumpkin is a variety that is not edible, but is carved and used as a Jack-o’-lantern to ward off demons.
Why pumpkin is good to eat
- Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene, which gets converted to vitamin A in the body, and vitamin C.
- It also contains dietary fibre and minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Energy – 100 g of pumpkin supplies approximately 185 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Pumpkin seeds do not like frost and they need mild temperatures to grow. The seeds develop into a vine with tendrils that grow along the ground and wrap around all obstacles that they encounter. Male and female flowers are produced on a single plant, with bees and other insects transferring pollen between flowers.
It takes about 24 weeks before the pumpkin plant is mature and the pumpkins are ready for harvest. A cracked, dried stalk indicates that the pumpkins are ready for picking. Depending on the variety, the skin (rind) also changes colour as the pumpkin matures.
When the pumpkins are fully grown, cut them off the vine with secateurs and leave some of the stalk attached to stop insects entering and the pumpkin spoiling.
Choose pumpkins with thick, unbroken skin. Avoid those with splits or soft patches. Pumpkins should feel heavy for their size. Select cut pumpkin that has a moist-looking interior and brightly coloured flesh.
How to store and keep pumpkins
Whole pumpkins can be stored for weeks in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. Store cut pumpkin in a vegetable storage bag or wrapped in plastic in the crisper section of your fridge. Cut pumpkin should be used within one or two days as it can become mouldy.
How to use
- Spice up your pumpkin soup – cook some curry paste before adding pumpkin and other vegetables to cook in stock before blending in a food processor and
- finishing off with a drizzle of coconut milk.
- Bake cheesy pumpkin chunks – mix cream, grated cheese and fresh herbs and pour over pumpkin seasoned with chopped garlic, salt and pepper, then bake until golden and crispy.
- Try pumpkin tart as a savoury entrée – mix cooked pumpkin with eggs and freshly chopped herbs, pour into a pastry case, then bake until firm.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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