Sunday, October 5, 2003

Tips for buying and using pumpkins

Look for a pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low the pumpkin will decay quickly - or may be decaying at the time of purchase, say experts at Ohio State and Illinois universities.

Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. It should be heavy, although its shape is unimportant if you're buying a pumpkin for cooking.

When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, the best selection is a "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin." These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. However, you can substitute the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results.

Yet your jack-o-lantern, even if it's made from a pie pumpkin, can't serve double duty. Pumpkin is highly perishable and must be cooked the same day it is cut open. Otherwise, orange flesh will develop a feathery black mold.

Pumpkins can be diced into chunks, steamed as a vegetables, spiced with nutmeg to enhance the flavor and served as a side vegetable to any dish. (It's easier to remove the peel once the pumpkin is cooked and has cooked a bit). Pumpkins can also be mixed with a variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and rhubarb.

Here are other ways this versatile vegetable can be used:

Pot pie - Add pumpkin to hashed meat with apples, pears, rhubarb or other fruits.

Casserole - Combine with rice and mince green pepper in a thick white cheese sauce.

Soup - Add pureed carrots, sliced onions and leeks, chopped celery and parsley.

Souffle - Mix pumpkin with white sauce, eggs and cheese.

Cooked pumpkin should be chilled immediately. During the cooking phase, the pulp will turn a dark brown. If you are making pulp puree, use the puree within 36 hours or freeze it. (Frozen puree can be stored up to a year.) One pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin will yield one cup of finished pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin A; it also contains vitamin C and some B vitamins, as well as iron and calcium. Pumpkin has only 38 calories per cup because of its high water content.

Finally, if you're making a jack-o-lantern, keep the seeds and try making them into a snack.

After you've removed the stem, scoop out the seeds and scrape away all of the stringy mass. (This is a messy job, so cover your work surface with newspaper.) Once removed, wash the seeds well. Spread them in a single layer on cookie sheet. Then, roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are dry. Dot with butter or olive oil and brown for 5 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Stir often until toasted. Sprinkle with salt, cool and serve.

- Enquirer staff

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