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Chef's Hat: The versatile pumpkin

The versatile pumpkin

Even though canned pumpkin is available year-round, it always seems to be in the fall when people think of cooking with this delightful fruit. Maybe we forget about pumpkins until we see them out as jack-o-lanterns for Halloween?

Pumpkins are much more than a pie filling or decoration. There are billions of pumpkins grown across the country each year, making it a muli-million dollar industry. Strange to think that about the smiling jack-o-lantern that sits on your porch as part of such a big business.

Following are some fun facts about pumpkins:

The top pumpkin production states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California.

Pumpkins are grown primarily for processing with a small percentage grown for ornamental sales through you-pick farms, farmers’ market and retail sales.

Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack.

Pumpkins contain potassium and vitamin A.

Pumpkins are used for feed for animals.

Pumpkin flowers are edible.

In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.

Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.

Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to more than 1,000 pounds.

The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.

Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

Pumpkins are fruit.

Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.

In colonial times, Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin in an open fire.

Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

Fall is great time to try pumpkin recipes. One year I did buy smaller or cooking pumpkins and cooked them for use in my recipes. From my experience, that pumpkin was no better than what you get out of a can. I’m not saying don’t try it, but it did take a lot of time and effort to roast a fresh pumpkin.

What I have found, though, is that you do need to use good quality canned pumpkin. When I bought a cheaper, off-brand can of pumpkin, the consistency was not smooth and it made a rather grainy pumpkin pie — definitely not good.

Don’t think of pumpkins as just a decoration. In a cake, pie, bar or for breakfast, pumpkin is a fantastic edition to any meal.

Happy eating!