Pumpkin season: Picking, cooking and preserving fall’s favorite fruit

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October is peak pumpkin season. We’ve already noticed decorative pumpkins lining the porch steps of homes and the jack-o-lanterns carved and lit in the evening, not to mention the pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin-flavored donuts, cheesecakes and other pumpkin-flavored desserts.

Aside from autumn decorations, pumpkins can be used in many recipes, and they can be eaten by themselves. Plus, pumpkin offers nutritional value.

Picking pumpkins

Pumpkins come in numerous varieties and sizes. If you’re choosing a pumpkin to cook with, smaller, heavier varieties are best. The pumpkin’s skin should be glossy, dense and thick without major defects. Larger, lighter pumpkins work better for decorating.

Cooking and baking

Pumpkin can be added to many dishes and desserts, or it can be cooked after the fibers and seeds have been cut out. OSU Extension explains how to prepare pumpkin so that it can be eaten on its own or added to baked goods and casseroles.

Keep in mind that the pumpkins you use for carving should not be used for cooking. OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences explains that after two hours in the “danger zone,” bacteria can grow in pumpkins and cause illness.

Not sure what to make? Try cracked pepper and sea salt roasted pumpkin seeds. These can be made with the seeds from any type of pumpkin.

Preserving

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends pressure cooking cubed pumpkin. Pumpkin should not be mashed or pureed and then pressure cooked.

Freezing pumpkins generally yields the best results. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, freezing pumpkin butter is the only safe way of preserving it due to bacteria growth in canned pumpkin butter.

Health benefits

Pumpkins are a great source for Vitamin A, fiber, potassium, antioxidants and other nutrients.

Carotene — the pigment that gives pumpkins their orange color — is found in the pumpkin as beta-carotene. While some beta-carotene is okay, researchers are looking into data that suggests that too much beta-carotene can have negative effects.

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