How do you mend a jack-o-lantern? …

by Anna Fletcher

with a pumpkin patch!!

Fall means colorful leaves, corny pumpkin jokes, scarves, brisk weather, and – in my opinion, the best part of the season – pumpkins!! As Thanksgiving approaches, we are seeing pumpkin breads and muffins appear in the grocery store, pumpkin beers on the menu at restaurants and breweries, pumpkins just waiting to be carved into jack-o-lanterns at produce stands, and pumpkin decorations on the shelves of drug stores. And, of course, Starbucks is once again selling their tasty and dangerously addicting pumpkin spice lattes! ‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin!!

So while you’re at Trader Joe’s doing some grocery shopping, add a big pumpkin to your cart or throw a couple baby pumpkins into your Grocery Getter! There are so many things that you can do with them:

What to do with the guts:  The best thing to do with the stringy pumpkin guts is to make pumpkin stock. You can use the stock in place of chicken or beef stock to liven up the flavors of a typical dinner dish. Scoop out the insides of the pumpkin and separate the seeds from the guts. Set the seeds – you will definitely want to save them for a tasty snack later!! Boil the innards in a pot of water for about half an hour or until it changes color. Strain, and put the pumpkin stock in a container for later use in soups, rice, casseroles, risotto – the possibilities are endless!

What to do with the seeds:  You have already set aside the pumpkin seeds, so now it’s time to roast them! Diligently pick off the strands and use a colander to rinse off the guts  in cold water (all this takes time, but it’s totally worth it!) until the seeds are completely clean. Next, put the seeds in a pot along with a small scoop of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered at low heat for about 10 minutes. Doing this helps the outer shell get nice and crispy in the oven. Drain the seeds and lightly pat them down with a paper towel. Spread the seeds out on a baking sheet, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and sprinkle salt on them. Pop them in a 300-degree oven and roast for 15 minutes. Take them out and stir before putting them back in for another 15 minutes. Do this again – total cooking time with be 45 minutes with 2 intervals of stirring. Keep an eye on them, and check often during the last 5 minutes of cooking, cracking a few open to make sure that the inner seeds are not brown – they should be a golden color. The hardest part about roasting pumpkin seeds? Not eating them all as soon as they come out of the oven!!

So now… you can either make a Jack-o-lantern with the hollowed-out pumpkin or use the meat to make a super tasty puree!

What to do with the meat:  Use the fleshy insides of the pumpkin to make a delicious and versatile puree that can be used for anything from pies to pancakes to ravioli to smoothies! Cut the hollowed-out pumpkin in half and then half again and place each quarter cut-side down into a baking dish. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven until the flesh is a light golden brown, soft and amazing. Remove the skin from the meat, using a knife to scrape all of the meaty goodness that you can. Puree in a food processor, adding a few chunks at a time. You can also use a blender (just add a bit of water) or a potato masher. You can even smash it with your feet like you would grapes at a winery! Or then again…maybe not.

Not only are pumpkins super super delicious, they are very good for you! According to the National Institutes of Health, a cup of cooked, pureed pumpkin contains more than 200% of your daily recommended vitamin A intake. This boosts your immune system, prevents cancer, and helps your vision (much like carrots…Is it an orange thing??), especially at night. Pumpkins are also a great source of fiber, with about 7 grams per one-cup pureed serving. Pumpkin seeds, like most nuts and seeds, are super rich in phytosterols, which helps reduce bad cholesterol levels. They can also help improve your mood! Pumpkin seeds contain the amino acid tryptophan, which produces seratonin, a brain chemical that can bring about feelings of well-being and relaxation, therefore putting you in a better mood.

And these are only a few health benefits of pumpkins!!

This fall season, grab an extra pumpkin from the pumpkin patch to use solely for cooking and eating! Your taste buds – and body – will love you for it. Happy pumpkin season!!