Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It's Pumpkin Season !!


As we progress through October our lives are consumed with the color orange

The images of Jack-O Lanterns are everywhere, but what about pumpkins are they really healthy? Well, if they weren't you could bet I wouldn't be writing this article! Let's see, how about some history. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 5500 B.C. So references to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was changed by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion." American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin." All the while Native American's were using pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries long before the pilgrims landed. They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Native Americans would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them. When European settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the natives and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets. The early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups, and even made beer out of it.

The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire. Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbita family which includes squash and cucumbers. Pumpkin flowers are also edible. The pumpkin blossoms can be eaten, batter-dipped and fried. Pumpkins range in size from less than 1 pound to over 1,000 pounds. The current world record holder is Chris Stevens's 1,810-pound Atlantic Giant pumpkin. For cooking purposes, you should pick smaller sizes, they will have more tender, tasty flesh. Select pumpkins which are free of blemishes, harvested with their stems intact, and pick the ones that feel heavy for their size. Unless they are waxed by the grower, a shiny skin indicates the squash was picked too soon. Look for a dull finish. For extended storage, you should wash the skin in a solution of about a tablespoon of chlorine bleach to a gallon of water to disinfect the skin and discourage mold or rot. Then dry your pumpkin immediately because dampness encourages spoilage. If you find mold, wipe it with vegetable oil to remove the mold and seal the spot.


Orange Bulldog pumpkin, is a variety bred from South American seed that's resistant to the wilt and viruses that would plague more traditional-looking varieties. These pumpkins are generally more squat than round, and can range in size up to 30 pounds. It's open-pollinated seed so there's a pretty wide variation in the fruit. It's said "If you don't carve it, it will last forever," you can treat it like butternut squash, storing it in the pantry through the fall and winter. So if we have a zombie apocalypse, you can survive on this pumpkin.

Now while pumpkins are a tasty source of vitamins and minerals, particularly beta-carotene, vitamin C, A, and potassium which helps prevent arteriosclerosis, that can lead to strokes or heart attacks. The real fun is in the seeds. While pumpkin seeds are available year round, they are the freshest in the fall when pumpkins are in season. The health benefits of eating pumpkin seeds are well known. High content of zinc makes them beneficial for the prostate. They can also protect against the parasites in the intestines, have anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower blood cholesterol too. The seeds are also good sources of protein, as well as iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and potassium. About a quarter-cup of seeds can provide over 20% of the recommended daily iron intake. According to the USDA, one gram of roasted seeds contain 5.69 mg L-tryptophan and one gram of seed protein contains 17.2 mg of L-tryptophan. (One cup of milk contains 183 mg.) This high tryptophan content makes pumpkin seeds interesting to researchers studying the treatment of anxiety disorders. So it stands to reason you could eat the seeds as preventative measure against onset of anxiety attacks, mild depression and other mood disorders.

The carotenoids found in pumpkin seeds, and the omega-3 fats found in pumpkin seeds are also being studied for their potential prostate benefits. Men with higher amounts of carotenoids in their diet have less risk for BPH (enlarged prostate). Zinc in pumpkin seeds might also impact prostate function. In animal studies, the addition of pumpkin seeds to the diet has compared favorably with use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin in reducing inflammatory symptoms. However the pumpkin seeds did not have any of the side-effects of the drug indomethacin. Pumpkin seeds do not increase the level of damaged fats in the linings of the joints, a side-effect that actually contributes to arthritis. In a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers published the amounts of phytosterols present in nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the United States. Phytosterols are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers. Pistachios and sunflower seeds were richest in phytosterols, followed by pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins are so versatile, you can boil them, roast them, or make sweet deserts like pies. They keep fresh for a long time, If you keep them in a quality, food storage container.
 
Not only do they taste good, they are packed with alpha and beta carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A and E and other nutrients with only 15 cal per 100 grams. Pumpkin seeds are without a doubt, one of nature's wonder food's. You can buy them in the shells, and shell them yourself, or buy them already shelled. I suggest you don't buy them out of huge bins, because they don't stay fresh, and a little moisture can ruin the batch. I sprinkle them in my oatmeal over grilled fish, in salads, or eat them by themselves. I even mix in a little chili powder. It's always better to buy your seeds or nuts unsalted, and add your own quality sea salt, if you don't like them unsalted. If you don't remember why you shouldn't eat nut's or other foods, salted with iodized table salt review my article on salt. If you want to know how to roast your pumpkin seed's check this video.

Also if you are old enough, and like beer try a Pumpkin Ale this year it's seasonal and tastes great, and by all means if you spot a pumpkin maiden at a farm stand on the side of the road this year stop and sample her wares. Good Luck...










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