Perfect Pumpkins & Savory Squash

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When buying squash at a farmers market, look for fruits with a dried stem. This indicates the squash was left on the vine longer and will be especially sweet.
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There are more than 40 types of squash, including pumpkins. Turban is one of the most popular.
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'Honey Boat' delicata winter squash has nutty, yellow-orange flesh that's high in calcium and vitamins A and C.
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Like fine wines, winter squash improve with age. As squash matures, the starch molecules transform into sugars.
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Versatile winter squash, including Delicata and turban, can be baked, boiled, steamed, stuffed, mashed, and even stir-fried.
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Pumpkin seeds make a healthful, delicious snack. After you carve your jack-o'-lantern, separate the seeds from the pulp. Spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 to 10 minutes.
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Squash soup will impress your guests when served in a pumpkin.

As autumn descends, vibrant oranges, reds, and golds dapple the countryside, especially at local farmstands and urban markets, where richly hued pumpkins and squash pile high in assorted shapes and sizes. You can enjoy these quintessential fall fruits in a variety of nutritious soups, appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.

For centuries, pumpkins and squash have been prized for their versatility and durability. Indigenous to the Americas, squash gets its name from the Native American word askutasquash. The Chinese call the pumpkin “Emperor of the Garden” and consider it the symbol of fruitfulness. Its name derives from the Greek word pepon, meaning “cooked by the sun.” Aptly named, pumpkins and winter squash are only eaten when fully mature, whereas summer squash such as zucchini and yellow squash are best picked young and tender.

Pumpkin Power

While you enjoy fall’s harvest, you may also be protecting yourself against cancer and heart disease. Squash and pumpkins are packed with the powerful carotenoid and antioxidant beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Responsible for giving pumpkins and squash their brilliant orange hues, beta carotene has been found to boost immune function and help prevent cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration, or deterioration of the retina. Pumpkins and squash are also good sources of vitamin C, riboflavin, and iron. Plus, they’re low in calories, high in fiber, and fat- and cholesterol-free.

Pumpkin seeds and their oil have been used in folk medicine to heal wounds and scars and to treat prostate disorders. Studies also show that pumpkin seeds contain protease inhibitors and free-radical fighters that may help heal intestinal viruses, reproductive disorders, and arthritis.

Squash Stats

There are more than 40 types of squash, including pumpkins. Some of the most popular squashes include butternut, delicata, hubbard, and turban cultivars, along with acorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin.

Pumpkins that are ideal for cooking are called “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins. Most pumpkins can be used interchangeably in cooking, although beefy jack-o’-lantern types are grown mainly for decoration, as their flesh may become watery with cooking.

During the harvest season, September to February, choose squash that are firm, unblemished, and heavy for their size. Also, look for squash with a dried stem, which indicates the fruit was left on the vine longer and is especially sweet. Winter squash keeps throughout the winter when stored in a cool, dry place. Like fine wines, squash improve with age. As squash mature, enzymes transform starch molecules into sugars, making the fruit sweeter over time and easier for the body to digest.

With flavors ranging from sweet to nutty, squash and pumpkin can suit the palates of even the pickiest eaters. Warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon — along with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar — are often used to enhance squash’s flavor.

These versatile fruits can be baked, boiled, steamed, sautéed, stuffed, mashed, and even stir-fried. The skins are edible if they are unwaxed. If the skins are waxed, remove the peel before cooking.


Stuffed Squash Recipe

Medicinal mushrooms such as maitake (Grifola frondosa) and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) contain polysaccharides known as beta glucans, which may be responsible for the fungi’s immune-stimulating benefits, ranging from fighting colds to thwarting cancer. Bulgur, a nutritious whole grain, may help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup bulgur
• 1 cup shiitake mushrooms
• 1/2 cup maitake or portobello mushrooms
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup finely diced green beans
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup finely minced parsley
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 3/4 cup vegetable stock, divided
• 2 delicata squash

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place bulgur in a medium saucepan.

3. Add 11/2 cups boiling water and soak for 1 hour. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl.

4. Clean mushrooms by wiping them with a brush or damp towel. Dry thoroughly, slice, and set aside.

5. Lightly oil a sauté pan with olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon water.

6. Add celery, green beans, and mushrooms and sauté over low heat for 4 to 5 minutes.

7. While sautéing, add lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Continue to sauté for 5 minutes more, then remove from heat, and set aside in a large bowl.

8. Add bulgur, parsley, oregano, paprika, and 1/4 cup vegetable stock to sautéed mixture. Toss well.

9. Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds and membrane.

10. Place squash in shallow baking dish, mounding squash cavities with mushroom-bulgur mixture.

11. Add 1/2 cup vegetable stock and 1/2 cup water to the baking dish. 12. Cover with foil and bake for approximately 1 hour or until squash is tender.


Roasted, Spiced Pumpkin Seed Recipe

This recipe uses a sweet spice mixture, but you could also make a savory version using cumin and chili powder or five-spice powder with a splash of tamari. Recipe by Jennifer C. Davis.

Yield: about 3-1/2 cups.

Ingredients:

• 1/2 tablespoon melted, unsalted butter or canola oil
• 1-1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
• 1 whole vanilla bean
• 3 cups pumpkin seeds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine butter or oil with brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise down the center and scrape the tiny black seeds into the bowl.

4. Add pumpkin seeds and stir to coat evenly.

5. Spread seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

6. Bake approximately 15 minutes, until golden and aromatic.

7. Stir seeds halfway through the baking time; they will crackle and puff as they cook. 8. Remove seeds from the pan, and cool. Roasted seeds can be stored in an airtight container for about a week.


Baked Pumpkin Custard Recipe

Folks will love to watch as you cut the pumpkin open to reveal this delicious dual-colored dessert.

Yield: 6 servings.

Ingredients:

• One 4- to 5-pound pumpkin
• 4 cups whole milk, scalded
• 4 eggs
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash pumpkin, cut off the top and reserve for a lid.

2. Scoop out seeds and fiber with a spoon.

3. Scald the milk by briefly bringing it to a boil and then removing the pan from heat.

4. Beat eggs well. Stir in sugar, spices, and vanilla. Gradually add milk to the mixture, stirring constantly.

5. Pour custard into pumpkin shell. Set pumpkin in a baking pan; add water to a depth of 1 inch.

6. Place shell lid in the pan next to the pumpkin.

7. Bake for about 11/2 hours or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.8. Serve hot from the pumpkin shell, scooping out some of the pumpkin with the custard. Or, allow to cool, then refrigerate and serve cold, either by scooping the custard out of the shell or by cutting the pumpkin into wedges.


Soup in a Pumpkin Recipe

This slightly sweet, low-fat soup provides a cornucopia of heart-healthy antioxidants, carotenoids, and bioflavonoids. Served in a pumpkin, it makes a grand opening to a holiday meal.

Yield: 6 servings.

Ingredients:

• 1 medium pumpkin or 6 mini pumpkins
• 2-1/2 pounds butternut squash or any orange-fleshed winter squash
• 3 cups vegetable stock
• 1 cup water
• 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
• 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
• 1 apple, cored and diced
• 1 teaspoon brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions:

1. Wash pumpkin, cut off top and reserve for a lid.

2. Scrape out seeds and fiber with a spoon.

3. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fiber, and peel if waxed.

4. Cut squash into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.

5. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.

6. Cover and boil. Reduce to simmer, and cook for 30 minutes or until squash, pumpkin, and vegetables are tender.

7. Transfer a quarter of the mixture to a blender or food processor.

8. Carefully blend, covering blender or food processor with a towel.

9. Repeat with remaining mixture until all is blended.

10. Stir to blend the batches.

11. Serve hot in a large hollowed-out pumpkin or individually in mini pumpkins.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.