Pumpkins and Squash - More Than Just Fall Decorations!
Posted: September 12, 2012
I noticed the first bins of pumpkins at a local farm market the other day, a sure sign that fall is on the way! These are the “funny” looking things that have weird shapes, bumps and colors that many people think of as decorations. It was these foods that served as a mainstay for Native Americans and early settlers during the long winters, providing both food and medicine. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service notes that the first “pumpkin pie” was made by hollowing out a pumpkin and filling it with apples, sweeteners, spices and milk. Winter squash are members of the gourd family, specifically the Cucurbita genus.
From a nutritional point of view, these vegetables are the ultimate in nutrient density. They are excellent sources of Vitamin A, beta-carotene, potassium, Vitamin C and fiber while being low in calories. They also contain niacin, folate and iron. When consumed, they count towards your MyPlate serving of orange vegetables, which recommends about 3 to 5 cups per week depending on your age. The most common varieties of winter squash are acorn, butternut, hubbard, delicata, spaghetti and pumpkin.
Unlike their summer counterparts, winter squash are harvested when fully mature, so their rind will be hard and tough, deeply colored and heavy for its size. Slight variations in skin color does not influence flavor. They should have part of the stem attached, which helps to retain moisture, and can be stored for up to three months in a cool, dry location.
I think the tough outer rind makes folks shy away from these vegetables, as they are not sure how to go about preparing them. In most cases, you cannot peel the rind like a summer squash; therefore, cooking the squash or piercing the squash and then microwaving for a few minutes is the first step in using these vegetables. Once the rind is softened, you can either peel it away or scoop out the flesh, depending on how you plan to prepare the squash. Winter squash can be baked, boiled, sautéed, steamed or puréed. The most popular method is baking, which brings out the sweet flavor and saves the beta-carotene content. When baking, the cut-side of the squash should be placed down on a foil lined baking pan. Boiling is faster than steaming; however, it tends to dilute the flavor of the squash. A different way to eat squash is to sauté grated, peeled or diced squash in broth, or a broth and oil mixture, cooking till slightly crunchy.
Winter squash can be canned or frozen for longer storage. Since these are low acid foods, they will need to be pressure canned. The squash should be cubed and hot packed and processed at 11 pounds pressure (check altitude of your location for exact recommendation) for 55 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. It is not recommended to can mashed or pureed squash. If freezing, you will need to cook the squash until it is soft, remove the pulp from the rind, and mash. Cool the mixture in an ice water bath and pack, leaving about ½ inch headspace. Only pumpkin and hubbard squash are recommended for drying, with an estimated drying time in a dehydrator of 10 to 16 hours. For detailed information on preserving winter squash, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/ .
While the texture and flavor of winter squashes will vary, they can be combined with both sweet and savory flavors and served as side dishes or combined into casseroles, stew or soups. The Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network newsletter for October features winter squash and has several recipes that are easy to prepare. The website is http://www.panen.org/snap/winter-squash. I have included an easy recipe for a Fall Casserole from this website that would be a good way to introduce your family to these versatile vegetables!
2 ½ cups Winter Squash, such as acorn, butternut or hubbard
1 ½ cups Cooking apples such as Granny Smith or Rome
½ tsp. Nutmeg
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1. Wash and prepare squash and apples (for extra fiber, keep peel on apples).
2. Alternate layers of squash and apples in 8x8 inch pan, end with apples.
3. Sprinkle on spices over top layer.
4. Cover with foil.
5. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45-60 minutes, until squash is tender.
6. Cool and serve.
Serving Size: ½ cup provides approximately 40 calories, 2 g fiber, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium
Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture at http://cuesa.org/food/squash-winter
PA Nutrition Education Network, Winter Squash, Volume 1, Issue 7
So Easy to Preserve, 5th Edition (2006), Cooperative Extension, The University of Georgia