The Pumpkin in the Vegetarian Diet

Pumpkins are native to the Americas, with seeds going back 9,000 years discovered in Mexico. They were a versatile item, used not only for food and medicine, but as containers when hollowed out and dried. They were one of the foods that the early European settlers, thanks to the natives who showed them the way, were able to survive on, given their nutrient content and the fact that they kept well, without rotting, for many months (having grown them myself, I can attest to this fact!). This is the main reason the pumpkin is so closely identified with the Fall harvest and with Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin provides two-and-a-half times the RDA for Vitamin A, and is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, and riboflavin, as well as the minerals copper, manganese, and potassium. The seeds from the pumpkin make a popular fall snack, once all the goop from the inside of the pumpkin has been washed away – I swirl them around in a colander under running water, picking out all the strings, then dry them as best I can with paper towels. Slow roasted in the oven at about 250 degrees until fragrant and very crunchy, with the seasonings you prefer (my usual mix is salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder), they will keep well, once cooled, in an airtight container for several weeks. They are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and a number of minerals including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc.

All pumpkins are not ideal for eating. The large, hollow pumpkins that are sold for carving into Jack-o-Lanterns at Halloween are generally rather dry, mealy, and flavorless. Jack-o-Lantern crops are big business, and those big pumpkins are grown specifically for that purpose.

You want a smaller, solid pumpkin that’s more flesh than cavity, deep orange in color, and very moist, if you’re going to eat it. Because of the very mild flavor of the pumpkin, it works in both sweet and savory recipes. A member of the squash family, it can be roasted or stuffed just like its winter squash cousins. The smaller the pumpkin, the easier it is to handle. A larger pumpkin could also be used as a festive soup tureen for the vegetarian holiday table – lightly roasted whole and hollowed out, then filled with a thick, hearty soup or stew (or even chili). Of course, mashed or pureed pumpkin is the basis for those Fall staples: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin cookies – the canned stuff is convenient, but it can be homemade, as well, by steaming and then mashing the flesh or pureeing it in a food processor.

In honor of the season, I will shortly be adding recipes that feature pumpkin to this blog. I will put links to them on this page, so check back now and then!

Pumpkin & Mushroom Lasagna
Pumpkin Pancakes with Fresh Blueberry Sauce
Spicy Pumpkin-Currant Bread with Pepita Butter
Spicy Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Soup with Homemade Croutons