With heaps of vitamins, fiber, and potassium, pumpkins are clearly in an enviable position nutritionwise, and they’re so easy to prepare. So why, in the U.S., are they almost exclusively used for decoration, pies, and more recently, beer?
I decided to explore this question during a trip to Auckland, New Zealand early last summer—autumn in the Southern Hemisphere—when I enjoyed one of the most delicious smoothies I’d ever tasted. In many other countries, both restaurant and home menus feature pumpkin as commonly as we do with potatoes and broccoli. It’s inexpensive, simple to roast and works nicely in pasta, salad, soup, or on its own as a lovely side. What’s not to love?
As you get started, be sure to learn which pumpkin varieties are tasty enough to eat. In a typical grocery store, look for pie pumpkins or ask the produce manager for recommendations for your particular use.
Snake Hill Farm in Chagrin Falls offers some delicious options at both the Chagrin Falls and the Shaker Square farmers markets. Snake Hill grower Rebecca Hopkins lists Cinderella, Crown, Kakai, Musque de Provence, New England Pie, and finally, her favorite, Winter Luxury, as pumpkins with good taste and texture.
“Almost all the pumpkins we grow are meant to be eaten, and that is what most of our customers seek,” Hopkins says. Decorative pumpkins are bred for size, rather than flavor and texture, so when shopping for edible varieties, you’re typically looking for the smaller pumpkins. Farmers at local markets can easily help you to choose, as can produce managers at grocery stores. “[Decorative pumpkins] are edible, although the flesh may not be as sweet and the texture may not be as smooth,” she says.
Maybe you’d like to include pumpkins in your own garden next year. Besides the tasty bounty, they’re also beautiful plants with their spiraling tendrils. “Growing most anything in these parts can be a challenge because our weather varies so widely year to year,” Hopkins says.
Pumpkins require a warm, frost-free growing season of 100–120 days. “I usually start my seeds indoors around the first or second week of June,” she says. “By the first week of July, I like to have all the seedlings in the ground and covered with Reemay.” Reemay is a light agriculture fabric that protects the plants from insects and also provides a little extra warmth and frost protection. Pumpkins require plenty of water but don’t want to be standing in it. Good drainage, with access to ample water, is ideal. If pumpkins are still green when winter hits, they can be moved indoors to a sunny location.
Once you’ve found or grown your pumpkin, a great way to dig in is to simply roast it. Cut the top off, slice in half from top to bottom, remove seeds, slice into wedges, drizzle with oil, and bake at 400˚ on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about half an hour.
From here you can use the roasted pumpkin in pasta dishes, salads, curries, soups, or in any other way that you’d typically eat any other roasted vegetable. To get you started, here are the recipes for the rock-star smoothie from St. Heliers Bay Café and Bistro in Auckland, New Zealand, and a New Zealand-inspired recipe for pumpkin grain salad.