Americans have eaten pumpkin since the first Colonists arrived in this great country. In the Northeast, Native Americans introduced them to giant winter squash and shared several cooking methods. Pumpkins were usually boiled or baked in a hot fire.
Pumpkin is the beta carotene king, with more than 16 milligrams per 1/2 cup (canned pumpkin). The orange color is produced by carotenoids. They help protect the body by neutralizing harmful oxygen molecules known as free radicals.
Past studies by scientists at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston suggests that people who eat a diet rich in carotenoid food have at least a 40 percent lower risk in getting macular degeneration. The antioxidants in pumpkin may help us to avoid other forms of cancer. Pumpkin consumption may also play a role in helping to prevent heart disease.
Pumpkin is high in fiber; 1/2 cup provides almost 2 milligrams. Pumpkin seeds are iron and protein rich: one ounce – a large handful – contains about 9 grams of protein.
Fresh pumpkin is very easy to prepare. It is best to select a small, sweet pie pumpkin; large pumpkins are better for carving jack-o-lanterns. Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds. Place the pieces in a foil-lined roasting pan. Add a little water to prevent scorching. Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes or until the flesh is easily pierced with a knife.
Small whole pumpkins are even easier to prepare. Bake whole until tender with a little water in the pan. Cut open and scrape out the seeds. When the baked pumpkin or pumpkin pieces cool, trim off the outer skin and discard.
I usually process the pulp in a food processor using the steel blade. I pack it into 1 or 2 cup freezer containers then freeze until needed. If used within 2 or 3 days, store in the refrigerator.
If the pumpkin pulp seems too watery, cook it down in a small pan on the stove about 20 minutes to reduce the liquid. Watch carefully and stir often. When pumpkins are not in season, substitute canned pumpkin, which is nutritionally equal to fresh pumpkin.
For more information on preparing fresh pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread, see Allison Askins’ article, Toasty Seeds, Spicy Breads, in the State Newspaper, October 18th, 2005.
Choctaw Pumpkin Cake
Have fun with this cake and experiment by stirring 1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped toasted pecans, dried cranberries or currants into the batter.
2 cups all-purpose flour (preferable soft wheat flour)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 cup pumpkin
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs, slighty beaten
1 teapoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and cocoa. Use a whisk to blend the ingredients together well.
Add pumpkin, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk ingredients together to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool cake and turn out of the pan. If desired, top with with your favorite chocolate or vanilla cream cheese frosting.
Cake can be baked in a 13-inch by 9-inch pan.