By Heidi Lewis
While the glowering Mr. Jack O' Lantern will certainly do some face melting in the next week or two, inspiring investigation by the budding entomologists in your family, there is plenty more to be done with pumpkins than just turn them into doorstops. Most Halloween-variety carving pumpkins are also edible, but the smaller Sugar Pie varieties provide a sweeter and more mellow flesh and might be preferred for baking.
Pumpkins originated in Central America. Native Americans stripped, flattened, and dried their skins and wove them into mats. They would also roast them in open fires and use the seeds for medicine. The pilgrims were inspired by the Native Americans to fill pumpkins with milk, honey, and spices and roast them in hot coals, creating the first pumpkin pie!
Pumpkins are chock full of the antioxidant beta-carotene, as evidenced by their orange color. One cup of cooked pumpkin includes 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, plus calcium, potassium, iron, Vitamins A, C, and E, plus zinc, all for only 49 calories.
To cook: Pumpkins can be roasted, boiled, or microwaved. For the oven, cut pumpkin in half, clean inside, rinse in cold water and place face down on a baking sheet and cook at 350 degrees for one hour or until fork tender. For microwave, clean inside, place face down and microwave on high for 15 minutes or until fork tender. For boiling, clean inside and then cut the pumpkin into large chunks, rinse in cold water, and then place in large pot with about a cup of water. Cover and boil for 20-30 minutes until fork tender. Reserve the liquid for a soup base if desired.
The puree: remove the peel when the flesh is cool enough to handle. Place the flesh in a food processor, food mill, or potato ricer to form a puree. Pumpkin puree freezes well and can be prepared in advance. Use as a substitute for any recipe calling for canned pumpkin.