eJ For Kids: Pumpkins
Many farmers in New Jersey let you go out into the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkin. Big pumpkins are perfect for carving into scary or silly jack-o'-lanterns, but they aren't very good for eating because the flesh is stringy and doesn't have much flavor. If you want to make a pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup, ask the farmer for smaller pumpkins that were grown especially for cooking. And pick ones with dull skin – shiny skin means they aren't ready to be picked.
Pumpkin season in New Jersey goes from mid-September until Halloween. Because pumpkins have hard skin, they can last for a really long time. In fact, if a pumpkin is picked a little before it is ripe and is stored properly, it may last all the way until spring.
Check the label
Look at the ingredient list on a can of pumpkin pie filling and you might find a surprise – it may not be made out of pumpkin at all! Processors often use butternut squash to make pumpkin pie filling because butternut tastes like pumpkin, but it is sweeter and has a smoother texture. Many chefs and home cooks also think that butternut squash makes the besttasting pumpkin pies.
What's your name?
The name "pumpkin" means different things to different people. Some Americans call all pumpkin-shaped squash "pumpkins" – even if they are green, white, brown or gold. Others use the word only for the orange pumpkins that we carve into jack-o'-lanterns. In some parts of the world, all winter squash are called pumpkins.
A versatile vegetable
Did you know that you can eat almost every part of the pumpkin plant? The flesh can be dried and ground into pumpkin flour. It can be baked, roasted, boiled, steamed or grilled and eaten as a vegetable. Some of the most common uses for pumpkin include soup, pie, bread and butter. Try filling hollowed-out mini pumpkins (raw or baked) with cold dips or warm soup.
Pumpkin seeds are nutritious and very tasty when roasted. Pumpkin rinds can be pickled and the flowers are edible, too. In parts of Asia and Africa, people even eat the leaves of the pumpkin plant!
HOW TO ROAST PUMPKIN SEEDS
Pumpkin seeds are good tasting and good for you! If you use a small to medium-sized pumpkin, you should be able to eat the entire seed including the husk. Here's how:
Preheat your oven to 400°.
With the help of an adult, cut the top off your pumpkin and remove the seeds using a big metal spoon. Put the seeds in a colander and rub under cool running water to remove the pumpkin flesh.
Measure how many cups of seeds you have. Put them in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of salt for each cup of seeds. Bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes and then drain well.
Toss your seeds with 1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil. Season with salt and any other spices that you like – such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, curry powder or cumin.
Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast on the top rack until brown. This could take 10 to 20 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on them so they don't burn.