During this time of year, we all see the bright orange flesh of the pumpkin as a sign of fall. Many of us also enjoy the treats of pumpkin pies and breads, and gardeners rejoice at the harvest of these festive squash. Yes, a pumpkin is a type of winter squash. That means this fruit (if you ask a botanist) or vegetable (if you ask a tax code professional). The fact of the matter is that pumpkin is an entirely good food. If you’re a pumpkin grower, you might have also enjoyed the stuffing of pumpkin blossoms earlier this year.
The real joy of pumpkin is the benefit of eating it. Many people enjoy snacking on pumpkin seeds, especially as medical science keeps touting the health benefits of these little nutritional powerhouses. Traditional pumpkin growers like the Native Americans have invented many culinary uses for the flesh of the squash including succotash. But now, even Western medicine is turning more attention to the healthful benefits of pumpkin.
In the October 1 issue of the Healthy Life E-zine, Dr. Mercola claims there are 9 potent benefits of eating pumpkin seeds, including “Heart healthy magnesium, zinc for immune support, plant-based Omega-3 fats, prostate health, anti-diabetic effects, benefits for postmenopausal women, heart and liver health, tryptophan for restful sleep, and anti-inflammatory benefits.” That’s an enormous list of health benefits from a simple seed. Furthermore, traditional holistic medicine teaches that there are also many health benefits to the flesh of the pumpkin. It may be something to consider adding to your diet more often than just the fall and winter holidays.
Pumpkin is one of the members of the winter squash family, similarl to butternut squash. These squash have a tremendous shelf life, able to last for weeks, or even months without significant refrigeration. This could have been a primary reason that this plant was grown as part of the Three Sisters growing methods practiced by Native Americans for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In this gardening technique, a plant with a tall, erect stalk is planted with a vine-type bean and a variety of winter squash. These plants have a symbiotic effect upon each other when growing and and can have a similar effect when used together in dishes. Traditional corn, dry beans, and squash eaten together as in the dish succotash can provide all the necessary nutrients to survive hard winter seasons.
Pumpkin can be easy to grow, whether using the traditional three sisters method or a modified form. Personally, I like to use the combination of a sunflower, great northern beans, and pumpkin or butternut squash. I also like the time-honored method of growing a pumpkin patch mulched with straw.
When it comes to eating pumpkin for health, I prefer to use organic pumpkins that I raise, and there is no waste. The peels can be brewed into a tea that calms the stomach and is very relaxing at bedtime. I like to spice the tea with clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The flesh can be used in stir-fries, succotash, soups, pies, and breads. Traditional pumpernickel is a bread made with pumpkin as a replacement for some of the flour used in bread-making, and is often a favorite for me. The seeds can be roasted at 170 degrees Fahrenheit or 75 degrees Celsius to bring out a nuttier quality to the flavor, or they can be eaten raw for maximum health benefits.
I sincerely hope you consider adding more of the power of pumpkin to your eating plan, and without further delay, here are a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes:
Powerhouse Pumpkin Pie
Yields two pies
1 small organic pumpkin
½ cup ground golden flax seed
¼ cup almond milk
3 cups organic brown sugar
2 Tablespoons powdered cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon natural sea salt
For the crusts:
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup organic brown sugar
1 cup organic canola oil
½ teaspoon natural sea salt
To most easily prepare the pumpkin, remove the stem using a pairing knife, then proceed to slice the pumpkin along its ribs before peeling the skin with a vegetable peeler. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds, rinsing them in a colander with cold water to separate the seeds from the pith. Spread the seeds on a parchment-lined pan and roast at 75 degrees Celsius/170 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 60-90 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes for even roasting.
Meanwhile, steam the peeled pumpkin pieces, trying not to immerse the pumpkin directly in the water, so it retains much of the flavor. The cooking time can vary depending upon your heat source and pumpkin size, so test the pumpkin pieces with a fork every twenty minutes. You have reached the desired consistency when a fork meets no resistance when inserted.
While that’s going you can work on creating the crust for your pie. In a food processor, combine the crust ingredients and pulse briefly until the ingredients are incorporated and begin to form a ball. If after 12 pulses, you don’t see this begin to happen, add a tablespoon of cold water and pulse 4 more times, repeat this again if necessary. Baking is affected by humidity, so if your kitchen is humid, you may not need to add any water, but if your kitchen is dry, you may have to add a few tablespoons to get the dough to come together. This dough should still be a little crumbly when you’ve reached the desired consistency. Turn this dough into a bowl and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for no less than an hour before rolling it and lining your well-oiled pie pans.
When the pumpkin flesh has been steamed to the correct consistency, drain it and place 6 cups a heat-safe bowl to cool. Add the flax seed, almond milk, sugar and seasoning, and refrigerate this mixture until you are ready to assemble your pies.
When the pumpkin seeds are done roasting, allow them to cool to room temperature, then grind them with a blender or food processor to a graham flour-like consistency.
When all of this is done, use a food processor or blender to puree the pumpkin mixture until creamy. Pour this mixture into the pie crusts you formed with the crust dough mixture. Top with the roasted pumpkin seed mixture and bake in an preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 degrees Celsius. As with any pumpkin pie, it is good to cool and chill the pie before serving. I recommend serving it with a soy-based ice cream or just whipped soy-milk.
So Not Suffering Succotash
4-6 cups water or vegetable broth
1 small organic pumpkin, peeled, cubed, and seeded
(the seeds can be roasted and added back to this dish as a garnish)
1 can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large sweet potato, cubed
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon natural sea salt
Combine ingredients in a covered baking dish, ensuring that the broth/water covers all the ingredients and has enough head room for simmering. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit/200 Celsius for an 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can combine these ingredients in a slow-cooker, cooking on low setting all day for an easy dinner or on high for 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes to ensure even cooking. Multiple vegetable substitutions and additions work for making succotash, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your own variations.
Here’s a link to the article I referenced in this issue: