By: Marla Morgan
Finally, we have OFFICIALLY reached Autumn! I look forward to this time of year for a variety of reasons: The weather starts to cool down, it marks the beginning of the holiday season, my hubby won’t think I’m too crazy for buying all of the autumn decorations for our apartment, and it’s FINALLY pumpkin season!!! There’s more to pumpkin than just your coffee shop pumpkin spice latte and store made pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to learn about the incredible health benefits of pumpkin or take advantage of the true nutrition powerhouse that it is. Moreover, pumpkins have quite a vast history extending over several thousand years, making them pretty much the coolest thing.
Pumpkins belong to the large family called cucurbits (also known as the gourd family) which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkin. They were originally cultivated in the Americas around 7000 B.C.E. In fact, archaeologists discovered the oldest pumpkin seeds found in Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico! Native Americans depended on pumpkins in order to survive long winters. Pumpkins had far more uses than to solely be eaten: They were used to create bowls and containers for storing grains, used for creating mats, used as medicine, used as flour, and Pilgrims even used the shell of the pumpkin as a template for haircuts (where the term “pumpkin head” likely originated).[2,3] Once introduced to European settlers, it became a favorite amongst pilgrims and colonists. It was amongst the many fruits in the first Thanksgiving by the pilgrims. In fact, the pilgrims founded Native American boiling, baking, and drying pumpkins and incorporated pumpkin into biscuits, desserts, and hearty dishes. Additionally, the pilgrims developed a pumpkin beer which was discovered when they couldn’t grow a decent crop of barley or hops. The following is a testament showcasing the dependency of pumpkins:
“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies, We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon”
Pilgrim verse, circa 1633
Most people don’t realize that pumpkins are a nutrition powerhouse. What makes it better is that all parts of the pumpkin are edible- the flesh, the seeds, and the flowers.  The flesh of the pumpkin is rich in beta carotene, a carotenoid which the body converts into vitamin A and is involved in maintaining eye and skin health, amongst other functions.
According to University of Illinois Extension, 1 cup of cooked pumpkin contains: 
- Calories: 49
- Protein: 2 grams
- Carbohydrate: 12 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 3 grams
- Calcium: 37 mg
- Iron: 1.4 mg
- Magnesium: 22 mg
- Potassium: 564 mg
- Zinc: 1 mg
- Selenium: .50 mg
- Vitamin: C 12 mg
- Niacin: 1 mg
- Folate: 21 mcg
- Vitamin: A 2650 IU
- Vitamin E: 3 mg
According to World’s Healthiest Foods, a 1/4 cup of dried shelled pumpkin seeds contains 180 calories, 3.45 g of carbohydrates, 15.82 g of total fat, 9.75 g of protein, and 1.94 g of fiber. Of the fat, it contains a good amount of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. It is often times praised for having a rich micronutrient content, more specifically of manganese (1.47 mg, 75% of RDA), phosphorus (397.64 mg, 57% of RDA), magnesium (190.92 mg, 48% of RDA), copper (0.43 mg, 48% of RDA), zinc (2.52 mg, 23% of RDA), and iron (2.84 mg, 16% of RDA). Additionally, it contains several antioxidant phytonutrients: hydroxybenzoic, caffeic, coumaric, ferulic, sinapic, protocatechuic, vanillic, and syringic acid, pinoresinol, medioresinol, and lariciresinol as well as phytosterols: beta-sitosterol, sitostanol, and avenasterol.[7,8]
Hundreds of varieties of pumpkins exist all of which can be broken down into 3 categories. The following are just a sample of the varieties that exist:
- Small pumpkins: Range from 2-5 lbs
- Baby bear, baby pam, small sugar or New England Pie, spooktacular, sugar treat, winter luxury. 
- Standard Orange (intermediate): Range from 8-15 pounds
- Autumn gold, bushkin, frosty, funny face, harvest moon, jack-o-lantern, spirit, young’s beauty. 
- Standard orange (large): Range from 15-25 pounds
- Aspend, big autumn, big Tome, Connecticut field, ghost rider, happy jack, howden field, jackpot, jumpin’ jack, pantkow’s field. 
I would like to point out one of the most unique pumpkins in existence: the Rouge Vif d’Estampes. This pumpkin is deep red-orange in color, is flattened, and heavily sutured. You remember Cinderella’s carriage? Well this pumpkin was the prototype for her carriage and is often times referred to as “Cinderella” pumpkin. 
If you plan on purchasing a pumpkin for the purpose of baking it into a pie, the sweetest varieties are the Cinderella, pink banana, sugar pie, and blue hubbard. For use in soups and stews, the red kuri, kabocha, and butternut varieties offer the best taste and texture. As a stand-alone dish, the delicate and carnival varieties are the best to use. For more information, please visit http://www.allaboutpumpkins.com/perfect.html. They are a family owned farm called Jack Creek Farms based out of California. 
As you can see, pumpkins have many more functions than to flavor our lattes and store bought cookies. There are numerous ways to enjoy using pumpkins and as mentioned early, they truly are a nutrition powerhouse. I hope you decide to try out some of these recipes this fall as they will surely keep you in the holiday spirit. Happy Pumpkin Season!
Prep: 5 minutes Level: Easy Cook: 1 hour Serves: 8
- 2 whole Pie Pumpkins
- 1 quart Vegetable Or Chicken Stock
- 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/3 cup Maple Syrup
- Dash Of Nutmeg
- Salt To Taste
- Extra Cream, For Serving
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place pumpkins on a cookie sheet and roast them until slightly shriveled and soft. Allow to cool slightly, then slice in half and carefully scoop out seeds and pulp. Scoop yummy flesh into a bowl. Set aside.
- In a pot, heat up the pumpkin flesh with the stock and maple syrup until simmering. Mash out the big chunks, the transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender) and puree until velvety smooth. Add cream and nutmeg, then blend again.
- Reheat if you need to, or just go ahead and serve in a hollowed-out pumpkin of whatever size you’d like.
Pumpkin Smoothie Bowl
Author: The Almond Eater Prep Time: 5 minutes Total time: 5 minutes Serves: 1
- ¾ cup pumpkin puree*
- 1 banana ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ⅛ tsp all spice
- Toppings: whatever you’d like!
- Recommended: apple, walnuts, chia seeds, cinnamon
- Combine smoothie bowl ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and add toppings.
- Make sure to use pure pumpkin, not any pumpkin pie mix.
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook time: 5 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes Serves: 4
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 3/4 cups almond milk
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Combine oats and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency is reached, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg until heated through, about 1 minute.
- Serve immediately, garnished with pecans and maple syrup, if desired.
- Cucurbits. Extension. Available at: http://extension.psu.edu/plants/vegetable-fruit/production-guides/vegetable-gardening-1/Cucurbits.pdf. Accessed September 24, 2016.
- The history kitchen. Pbs. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-pumpkins-recipes/. Accessed September 24, 2016.
- Pumpkins and more. University of Illinois extension. Available at: https://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/varieties.cfm. Accessed September 24, 2016.
- Westbrook, D. More than pies: eight pumpkin recipes for fall. East West . Nov.-Dec. 1991: 25+. Culinary Arts Collection. Accessed September 24, 2016. All about pumpkins.
- All about pumpkins. Available at: http://www.allaboutpumpkins.com/history.html. Accessed September 24, 2016.
- Beta-carotene. Mayoclinic. Available at:http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/beta-carotene/background/hrb-20058836. Accessed September 25, 2016.
- Pumpkin seeds. The world’s healthiest foods. Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=82. Accessed September 24, 2016.
- Magee, E. Pumpkin seed power: also known as pepitas, magnessium-rich pumpkin seeds are especially delicious in autumn when you can roast them fresh. Better Nutrition Oct. 2006: 58+. Culinary Arts Collection. Accessed September 24, 2016.