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The Power of Pumpkin | Nov. 16, 2011

The holidays are upon us.  Tis the season for pumpkin!  Pumpkins usually make their appearance in October in time for Halloween festivities.  Pumpkins are used for carving, decorations and endless recipes, making them one of the most versatile fruits in the world.  Yes, pumpkins are classified as fruit.  They are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which consists of melons, cucumbers, squash and gourds.


Pumpkins have grown in North America for at least 5,000 years.  Native Americans used pumpkins in a variety of ways long before the pilgrims arrived.  They dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.  They would also eat strips of pumpkin they roasted over an open fire.  When the white settlers landed in North America, they learned from the Native Americans about pumpkins and adapted pumpkin into their diets.


In fact, pumpkin pie is thought to have originated when colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds and filled the cavity with milk, honey and spices.  They then baked the pumpkin in the hot ashes of a fading fire.


Pumpkins provide an array of nutritional benefits.  While they are low in calories, fat and sodium, pumpkins are great sources of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron.  There are many ways to incorporate pumpkin into your diet:  pumpkin soups and stews, desserts, breads and muffins, dips and spreads, and even pasta dishes to provide a creamy texture.  Pumpkin is relatively inexpensive and you can use fresh or canned.  Approximately 80 percent of the U.S. pumpkin supply is available during October.  Canned pumpkin is readily available year-round so you can enjoy pumpkin recipes any time of the year.


Don’t forget about the seeds of the pumpkin!  Pumpkin seeds are rich in minerals such as manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.  The seeds are also a good source of protein and Vitamin K.  Next time you carve a pumpkin, don’t throw out the seeds.  Save them and roast them!  You could also add pumpkin seeds to salads, cereals and oatmeal, or grind them to add a nutritional punch to your favorite recipes.  If you want to grow your own pumpkins, you can simply use sees you removed.  A good source for details on how to grow pumpkins is www.allaboutpumpkins.com.


There is an abundance of pumpkin recipes online.  Here is one of our favorites from Cooking Light that is low in fat and packed full of nutrients and antioxidants:  http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/pecan-topped-pumpkin-bread-10000001673145/.  Try new recipes to add pumpkin to your diet year-round for color, great taste and nutritional benefits at a low cost.