The most popular use for pumpkins this time of year is jack-o-lanterns and fall decorations. But pumpkin is healthy and versatile, so we could be preparing and eating it in a variety of ways, as well. Pumpkin provides fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and protein. Here are some guidelines when choosing a pumpkin for cooking:

Choose a small pumpkin that weighs two and six pounds.

“Pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin” is a good choice, but the jack-o-lantern variety also works just fine for eating.

Look for a pumpkin that has one or two inches of stem left. Pumpkins with shorter stems decay more quickly.

Choose a pumpkin that has a rich orange color with skin that cannot be easily broken or scratched by your fingernail.

For every pound of whole pumpkin, you can expect to get one cup of pumpkin puree.

To get multiple uses out of it, you can use first use your pumpkin as a decoration by painting a funny face on it using non-toxic paints. Then, after the holiday, you can wash and cook it.

To use the pumpkin for maximum benefit, don’t throw out the seeds---they can be roasted and eaten. Start by removing the stem with a sharp knife. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and scrape the stringy part away. Wash the seeds in warm water and spread them out to dry. To roast, spray pan with oil and spread speeds thinly on the pan. You can sprinkle the seeds with salt or any seasoning that appeals to you (such as cheesy popcorn or Cajun seasoning). Bake in a 250°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

There are three ways to prepare the pumpkin in order to make pumpkin puree.

To bake: Cut the pumpkin in half, place the cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F until fork tender or about an hour.

To microwave: Place half of the pumpkin cut side down on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for fifteen minutes or until fork tender.

To boil: Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse in cold water.

Place the chunks in a large pot and cover with water. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes until tender.

After following one of the three methods above to prepare it, you can now make the puree: Cool and peel the pumpkin and use a food processor, blender, ricer or potato masher to puree it. Pumpkin puree can be used in any recipe in which you use purchased pumpkin. Pumpkin puree can be frozen at 0° for up to one year. It is not recommended to can pumpkin puree as the center of the jars may not get hot enough to kill bacteria.

If your desire is to can pumpkin, can it into chunks first and then use a pressure canner as it is a low acid vegetable. Pumpkins should have a hard rind and string less, mature pulp. They should be ideal for cooking fresh. Small pumpkins (sugar or pie pumpkins) make better products.

Hot pack: Wash pumpkin and remove seeds. Cut into 1-inch slices and peel. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil 2 minutes. CAUTION: DO NOT MASH or PUREE. Pack hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1-inch head space. Fill jars to 1 inch from top with boiling hot cooking liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process.

Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds’ pressure OR in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds’ pressure:

Pints for 55 minutes or Quarts for 90 minutes.

If you have pumpkins but you’re not quite ready to cook them, keep in mind that pumpkins can be stored for several months if kept at 50°F to 55°F in a dry, airy place.

For more information, contact your local Meadowlark Extension District Office. We have offices in Oskaloosa, Holton and Seneca. I can be reached at 785-863-2212.

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