5 Fun Ways to Cook with Pumpkins

The search for pumpkin-flavored food isn’t difficult in the fall, but homemade treats made from your garden’s fresh pumpkins will beat a pumpkin spice latte any day.

by Melissa Griffiths
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Pumpkins. Just the word brings to mind fun fall memories, including trips to the pumpkin patch and making pie with grandma. Pumpkins are an iconic fruit—yep, fruit—of fall, and pumpkin pie is still the favorite pumpkin recipe in the U.S. This healthy fruit is full of fiber and vitamin A, so why not enjoy it in as many dishes as possible? Pumpkin is excellent in curries and chili-like soups, as well as in pasta sauce and ice cream. The pumpkin possibilities are endless. Here are a few recipes to get you thinking out of the box.

1. Homemade Pumpkin Purée in the Slow Cooker

Homemade pumpkin purée is sweet, fresh and moist, not to mention much cheaper to make yourself than buying canned pumpkin from the store. Using the slow cooker to make pumpkin purée makes the process easy, and sugar, pie or sweet pumpkins, which normally weigh 3 to 5 pounds, fit perfectly inside.

To get started, wash the outside of the pumpkin to remove any dirt. Remove the stem, cut the pumpkin in half, and scrape out any seeds and pulp with a spoon. Place the pumpkin, flesh side down, into the slow cooker (you can cut it into more pieces if needed) and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, or until the flesh is soft and you poke a fork through the skin. Let the pumpkin cool until you can safely handle it, then scrape the flesh from the shell. Mash the flesh with a fork. Store it covered in the fridge for a few days or frozen for up to a year.

2. Roasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Replace traditional Spanish peanuts with the same amount of roasted pumpkin seeds and make according to your favorite brittle recipe. The roasted pumpkin seeds are extra crunchy and look amazing in brittle.

3. Simple Pumpkin Soup

Remove the top from a small pumpkin (preferably a sugar or candy pumpkin) as if you were going to carve it and scoop out the seeds. Cut a small hole in the pumpkin lid for a chimney. Drop in a finely chopped leek, one crushed clove of garlic, fresh rosemary and sage, and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Fill the pumpkin with chicken stock. Return the lid to the pumpkin, and place iton a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until the pumpkin flesh is cooked (1 to 2 hours depending on the size of your pumpkin). Scoop some pumpkin flesh into a bowl, cover it with some of the broth from inside the pumpkin and serve with additional fresh sage and Parmesan.

4. Quick and Easy Pumpkin Dip

Pumpkin dip is a simple treat to make as an after school snack or to take to a party. Mix 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 cup pumpkin purée, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Dip apples, ginger snaps or graham crackers in it.

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5. Animal Feed

Because pumpkin is high in fiber, veterinarians often recommend feeding it cooked to dogs and cats experiencing problems with constipation, diarrhea or hairballs. All that fiber aids proper digestion. Raw pumpkin can also be fed to many animals on the farm as a natural dewormer. Chickens, geese, ducks, sheep and goats all love it. During winter, use the raw pumpkin to supplement your poultry’s feed to help maintain egg production. The antioxidants, beta carotene and vitamin A found in pumpkin are excellent for hen health, and pumpkins also help to make the egg yolks a beautiful deep-orange color.

When You Can’t Eat, Store

The great thing about pumpkins—and all squash, for that matter—is that they store well, so there’s no pressure to use them all up at once. Allowing your pumpkins to cure after they mature helps them to last longer and prepare them for market. The skin will harden and any scratches will scar and heal.

Pumpkins are mature when uniform in color and have a shiny skin that can be punctured with your fingernail. Once mature, cut them from the vine, leaving a 3- to 6-inch stem. Let pumpkins cure in the field for 10 days if your weather is dry and warm (80 to 85 degrees during the day is ideal). If the weather is looking damp and cold when you harvest, bring them into your garage or barn to cure.

Store cured pumpkins in a single layer on material that breathes well, such as a wooden pallet, cardboard or straw, without allowing them to touch one another. This will stop moisture from collecting on the bottom which helps to slow rotting. The ideal temperature storage is between 50 and 55 degrees F with a fair amount of humidity. Root cellars are ideal, but basements and garages will also work.

Check stored pumpkins often for signs of softening and rot. Remove pumpkins that are beginning to soften, mold or decay, cut off the bad spots, and use them right away. Pumpkins are great for people and animals all winter long, and any waste is just right for your compost pile.

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