Get Your Pumpkins Now
While Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for pumpkin production, the extreme wet weather and flooding in some parts of the state this fall has hit the pumpkin crop pretty hard in some areas. Some growers lost whole fields of pumpkins due to flooding and others have experienced significant losses due to disease issues caused by the record-setting wet weather over the past seven weeks. In other areas, particularly western Pennsylvania, growers are expecting near normal yields. Even so, pumpkins and winter squash are available all across the state and now is the time to get them.
Growers began harvesting pumpkins and winter squash in September and will continue through October. While many Pennsylvania pumpkins are shipped to other states, many farm markets offer Keystone State consumers the opportunity to pick their own pumpkins right from the field.
As the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons near, farmers are bringing wagon and truck loads of pumpkins and squash along with other fall ornamental specialties like gourds, squash, Indian corn, corn shocks, mums, ornamental cabbage and kale, and straw bales to the wholesale produce auctions, retail farm markets and garden centers for sale. Pumpkins and their cousins, winter squash, are one of Pennsylvania’s major vegetable crops. Pennsylvania growers annually plant about 325 acres of winter squash in addition to 6,800 acres of pumpkins. While the production is centered in the southeast corner of the state, acres of pumpkins and squash are grown all over the state.
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. The most common is the jack- o’- lantern type that generally ranges from 10 to 30 pounds. Small pumpkins, usually about the size of a cantaloupe, are popular for indoor decorations as well as eating. Mini-pumpkins, such as the variety “Jack-be-Little,” are a relatively recent addition to the pumpkin industry. They are about the size of a large tomato and also are extremely attractive for indoor fall decoration. Giant pumpkins, which are actually squash weighing from 50 to 200 plus pounds, are great for special eye-catching displays.
Choosing a pumpkin is mostly a matter of taste as to the shape and size. In general, pumpkins should have a rich orange color indicating full maturity, although the shade varies between varieties. For long-term fall displays, it is important to choose a pumpkin which is free of any unhealed skin punctures or soft areas. The stem should be firm also. While pumpkins can withstand frosts in outdoor displays, they will last longer if they are protected from the frost.
For jack-o’-lanterns, it is not as important to find a pumpkin that has no skin punctures since carving the pumpkin subjects the flesh to more decay-causing organisms than do small punctures. Many farm markets offer pumpkins that have colorful faces painted on the pumpkin. These will usually keep longer than a carved jack-o’-lantern.
While large jack- o’- lantern-type pumpkins can be cooked for pies or other recipes, their flesh is stringy and the eating quality is poor compared to the smaller pietype pumpkins, often called sugar pumpkins because of their sweetness. Pumpkins are close relatives to winter squash and most commercially prepared “pumpkin” is actually winter squash. Neck pumpkins (which are really squash), butternut and Hubbard squashes all make tasty “pumpkin” dishes, such as pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread.
Pumpkin or squash can be cooked a number of different ways. After splitting the fruit and removing the seeds and attached strings, the flesh can be cut out of the rind and cubed. The cubed flesh can then be boiled, steamed or microwaved until tender, drained and then mashed. For the smaller squash varieties, the fruit can be cut in half. After scooping out the seeds, the halves should be placed cut-side up in a shallow pan with a small amount of water or cut-side down on a baking sheet, covered with foil and baked in a hot oven until the flesh is tender. The halves can also be partially covered and cooked in a microwave oven until tender. The cooked flesh can then be scooped out and mashed for use in recipes. Or for a quick vegetable side dish, put a little butter and brown sugar in the cup of an acorn or small butternut squash cut in half, bake until soft and serve as is.
Pumpkin and squash are both good sources of vitamin A, although squash generally have more than pumpkin. They also have good amounts of fiber and help fulfill the weekly recommendation 4 to 6 cups of red or orange vegetables for adults.
The following recipes for pumpkin and winter squash were finalist recipes in the 2010 “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Vegetable Recipe Contest:
Pumpkin Turkey Chili
A delicious, low fat chili that is loaded with nutritious vegetables!
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup chopped yellow bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced and quartered zucchini
1 ½ pounds ground turkey
1 ½ cups finely diced fresh tomatoes
1 can (14.5-ounce) beef broth
1 can (14.5- ounce) red kidney beans
1 can (14.5-ounce) white kidney beans
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions, bell peppers, garlic and zucchini. Sauté for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from pan and set aside. In same pan, cook ground turkey until browned. Drain turkey. Add beef broth and diced tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow the liquid to reduce some. Then add the vegetable mixture, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, kidney beans and pumpkin puree. Add chili powder and black pepper. Cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with cheese.
By Deb Lyon, Bangor
3 cups cooked and shredded spaghetti squash
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped red onion
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped red bell pepper
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes, undrained, or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
8 ounces Mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon parsley
Cut spaghetti squash lengthwise in half, scoop out pulp and seeds. Place halves into large pot and add enough water to cover. Cook squash on a gentle boil until a fork easily pierces the shell. Remove squash, cool slightly and then run a fork through the flesh to form strands. Set aside. Sauté the onions, peppers and garlic in oil until crisp tender. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of pepper mix and set aside. Add tomatoes, vinegar and Italian seasoning to the remaining peppers. Simmer 5 minutes and then remove from heat. Add squash and stir. In an 8- inch-square or similar-sized casserole dish, layer half the vegetables, then half the mozzarella, the rest of the vegetables, and finally the rest of the mozzarella. Top with Parmesan cheese, reserved peppers and parsley. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove cover and brown if desired. Serve with tossed salad or crusty bread if desired.
By Cindy Kerschner, Schnecksville
1 cup sugar
. teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons flour
2 cups pureed cooked
winter squash (Hubbard
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 can (12-ounce) evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat sugar, eggs, salt, and flour until well combined. Add pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and mix well. Slowly add evaporated milk and vanilla. Pour into 8 custard cups (6- ounce) and place in baking pan containing 1 inch of very hot water. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until set. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.
By Susan Rothenberger, Boyertown
Pumpkin Cheese Ball
1 package ( 8- ounce)
½ cup cooked and
mashed pumpkin (or solid
packed canned pumpkin)
1 package (2.5- ounce)
smoked, sliced beef, chopped
2 cups shredded sharp
¼ cup crushed pineapple,
1 tablespoon chopped
1 rib celery
Combine pumpkin and cream cheese. Stir in beef, cheddar cheese, pineapple and onion. Chill 1 hour. Form into a ball and score with knife to resemble a pumpkin. Use part of the celery rib as a stem in the top of the pumpkin-shaped ball. Serve with crackers.
By Shirley Livengood, Wilmerding.
Quick buying tips for Pennsylvania Pumpkins
The Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program offers these tips when buying pumpkins:
Select pumpkins that have a rich orange color with no green. Look for a good solid stem.