By Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist

Although we often think of pumpkins in terms of pie or Halloween decorations, pumpkins are more versatile than most people think.
The flesh of the pumpkin can be used in a variety of cooked dishes as a good source of vitamins K and A, magnesium, fiber and potassium. Vitamin A helps maintain eye health, potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, and vitamin K and magnesium work together with calcium and vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones. Pumpkins also provide vitamin C, folic acid, pantothenic acid and copper.
When choosing a pumpkin for eating, select varieties bred for flavor, known as pie or sweet pumpkins. These are usually smaller, sweeter and have more pulp than the types used for jack-o-lanterns. Larger, waterier, decorative pumpkins can also be eaten. When using a pumpkin for both decoration and food, keep it safe to eat by drawing on it with non-toxic paint or markers instead of carving it. Or better yet, get one for carving and one for eating.
Under cool running water, use a vegetable brush to scrub dirt and germs away from the pumpkin. This helps to avoid driving any harmful bacteria that may be lurking on the outside surfaces into the flesh when it is cut.
Pumpkin can be canned, frozen or dried for later use. Can pumpkin in chunks — pureed pumpkin is too thick to can safely, and no research-based recipe or procedure has been developed for home canning. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has a procedure to can pumpkin or other winter squash on their website.
To freeze, select full-colored mature pumpkins with fine texture. Wash, cut into cooking-sized sections and remove seeds. Cook until soft in boiling water, steam, pressure cooker, oven or microwave. Small pumpkins can be pierced and baked whole on a tray in an oven or microwave until soft. Bake at 325°F until a fork or knife pierces the skin easily. Let cool and scoop out the flesh. It should fall away from the skin when done. To cool cubed, steamed pumpkin, place pan containing the pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally. Then remove the pulp from the rind and mash. Package the pumpkin in sealable containers or bags in amounts to match your recipes, label and freeze until ready to use it.
Pumpkin can be used to make pies. But it can be used in many other ways too. Try it as squash chunks, with just a little margarine drizzled on them. Or puree the squash, add a little margarine, sprinkle with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, mix it in and you have a quick and easy crust-less mock-pumpkin pie. The puree can also be used in cakes, cookies and bread.
Pumpkin and other winter squashes can also be grilled. Wash them, cut in slivers or slit in half the long way, remove seeds and membranes, and lay the open side down toward the heat. Place in a cooler part of the grill for slow even cooking. Season with garlic, cumin or other spices you use for vegetables.
If you end up with more than you can use in a few days, freeze the rest for best results. Simply place in freezer bags or boxes in quantities that suit your favorite recipe or your table and then thaw in the refrigerator when you are ready to use later.
For more information on pumpkins or any other topic, contact me, Janet Hackert, at 660-425-6434 or or your local University of Missouri Extension office. University of Missouri Extension – your one-stop source for practical education on almost anything. This is Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition Specialist, wishing you a great weekend.