The images of Halloween 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 the 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 Tim Mathison. On October 11, 2013, Tim brought his now world record 2032 pound pumpkin to the Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Park Weigh-off at Morgan Hill, Ca. I knew you didn't want to see that. So here's another pic of the roadside pumpkin maiden.
For cooking purposes, you should pick the 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. There are so many roadside pumpkin stands this time of year, pull over and see what they have to offer. 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.
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. Let's look at some. The high content of zinc makes them beneficial for the prostate.
Also if you are old enough, and you 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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