Pumpkin is not just a food for autumn

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Kam Abbott/Flickr

The pumpkin is among the most celebrated of foods. This fruit of the vine, marketed as a vegetable, is rich with legend and lore. There are mythical mentions of pumpkins in fairy tales, short stories and rhymes. Remember, Cinderella was chauffeured to the ball in a pumpkin-turned-coach. The horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” used a pumpkin propped under his arm as proof of his headless condition. And then there was “Peter-Peter the Pumpkin Eater” of the celebrated Mother Goose rhyme.

Now for some real food history — pumpkin has also been held in high esteem in many cultures. The Halloween practice of carving jack-o-lanterns is an old English custom. Pumpkins were carved so the eerie light cast off by these hollowed, lighted pumpkins would ward off evil spirits. The jack-o-lantern’s name was derived from “Jack with a Lanthorn,” the nickname for an imaginary light that hovered over swamps misleading unwary travelers.

Here in the United States, pumpkin played a starring role in the first Thanksgiving celebration, and to this day it remains a main attraction of the traditional family meal for dessert; however, pumpkin should be enjoyed and prepared all year long.

Baking with pumpkin during the holiday season evolved because it closely followed the harvest time when pumpkin was in great supply. In years past, pumpkin was less commonly used during the rest of the year, not for lack of popularity, but because it was considered a “seasonal” product.

Pumpkin really isn’t a seasonal food since we have the convenience of canned pumpkin in today’s grocery store. Freshly baked pumpkin dishes are so full of flavor. Pumpkin is an excellent source of many nutrients with irresistible aroma, flavor and texture. Rich in vitamin A, pumpkin also contains iron, potassium and vitamin C, plus many other necessary nutrients. It is also low in calories, sodium and fat.

Most solid-pack pumpkin is completely natural and as close to home-grown as possible. Two types of pumpkin are canned commercially — plain pumpkin that has nothing added to it and pumpkin pie mix that have flavorings, sugar, etc. added to it. One cup of plain pumpkin contains 80 calories, 2 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram fat, 10 milligrams of salt, and 470 milligrams of potassium.

Food items with pumpkin have a wonderful aroma and delicious flavor. Commercially canned pumpkin should not be limited to just pie — try quick breads, cakes, pancakes, waffles, muffins, main dishes or refrigerator or freezer desserts.

Try these pumpkin recipes:

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