published Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Five tips for choosing a cooking pumpkin

There's more to an ordinary pumpkin than meets the eye. For example, the big fruit (yes, it's a fruit) that children transform into jack-o'-lanterns every Halloween is rich in potassium and vitamin A.

According to June Puett, a University of Tennessee Extension agent, pumpkins play a sentimental role in the arrival of fall.

"They are one of the most versatile fruits," Puett said. "How can a food that tastes so good be so good for you?"

Puett said the extension office in Chattanooga will offer a food preservation class on Oct. 18 in which participants will learn how to preserve pumpkin and other fall and winter produce. For more information, call 855-6113 or visit facebook.com/TennesseeSavesChattanoogaChapter.

Puett offered the following tips from the University of Tennessee Extension Service on selecting and cooking pumpkins.

FIVE TIPS

1) Selecting: The best for cooking is a "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin." These are smaller than the large jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, and the flesh is sweeter and less watery.

However, you can substitute the jack-o'-lantern variety with fairly good results. Look for a pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low the pumpkin will decay quickly or may be decaying at the time of purchase.

Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. It should be heavy, but shape is unimportant. Figure one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree.

Did you know?

  • Total U.S. pumpkin production in 2008 in major pumpkin-producing states was valued at $141 million.

  • About 90 to 95 percent of the processed pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois.

  • American Indians roasted pumpkin seeds for food.

  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.

Source: University of Tennessee Extension Service.

2) Preparing: Spread newspaper over your work surface. Remove the stem with a sharp knife. If you are planning to roast the pumpkin seeds, smash the pumpkin against a hard surface to break it open. If not, cut in half with a sharp knife. Remove the stem and scoop out seeds and scrape away all of the stringy mass.

3) Cooking: Cut pumpkin into large chunks. Rinse in cold water. Place pieces in a large pot with about a cup of water. The water does not need to cover the pumpkin pieces. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender, or steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Check for doneness by poking with a fork. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander. Reserve the liquid to use as a base for soup.

4) Baking in oven or microwave: Cut pumpkin in half, scraping away stringy mass and seeds. Rinse under cold water. Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for one hour or until fork tender. For microwaving, cut pumpkin in half, place cut side down on a microwave safe plate or tray. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, check for doneness. If necessary continue cooking at 1-2 minute intervals until fork tender.

5) Preparing the puree: When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, remove the peel using a small sharp knife and your fingers. Put the peeled pumpkin in a food processor and puree or use a food mill, ricer, strainer or potato masher to form a puree. Pumpkin puree freezes well. To freeze, measure cooled puree into one cup portions, place in ridged freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space or pack into zip closure bags. Label, date and freeze at zero degrees for up to one year. Use this puree in recipes or substitute in the same amount in any recipe calling for solid pack canned pumpkin.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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