Go Beyond Fall Flavors by Cooking With Pumpkins

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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Written By: Simon Gonzalez, Extension Writer and Content Marketing Specialist available at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/2022/11/go-beyond-fall-flavors-by-cooking-with-pumpkins/.

2 men harvesting pumpkins from a field

There are a few sure-fire signs of fall. The leaves turning beautiful colors, a crispness to the morning air, and pumpkin-flavored everything. The stuff can be found on just about every aisle in the grocery store. For breakfast, there are pumpkin flavored pancakes and waffles. For lunch, how about a sandwich with pumpkin swirl bread? Pumpkin flavor abounds, and for good reason, it’s delicious.

“It’s a pumpkin explosion right now,” said Catherine Hill, Nutrition Programs Manager with NC State Extension’s Family & Consumer Science program. Alas, the seasonal goodness is not necessarily good for us. Most commercially available pumpkin products emphasize flavor over health. “A lot of pumpkin-flavored items tend to be sweeter, carb rich foods,” Hill said. “What you are going to find in a store already packaged is going to be more of a flavor profile than it is the actual food product.” And that is a shame. Pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse. “It’s high in fiber, more than kale cup-for-cup,” Hill said. “It is really high in vitamin A, it is an antioxidant, it is high in water, and it is a low-calorie food. It is also a great source of vitamin C.” A cup of cooked pumpkin is also rich in iron and magnesium, and has more potassium than a banana.

“You can cube it and boil it down and blend it, and you would end up with pumpkin puree,” Hill said. “At the same time, it is pretty inexpensive already canned. As a canned product (not pumpkin pie filling) it is affordable and really nutritious and certainly a lot less effort. It is well suited for dishes such as pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells, Thai pumpkin soup, pumpkin waffles with orange and cinnamon, and pumpkin chicken chili”. “It doesn’t always have to be pumpkin pie, or pumpkin spice latte,” Hill said. “There are other ways you can prepare and have those fall flavors, and connect that food to the feeling of fall in a different way.”

The plethora of pumpkin products currently available definitely defines itself as a fall flavor. But our love for pumpkin-infused products can also be connected to tradition and nostalgia. “Food is really powerful as a memory recalling, memory setting tradition,” Hill said. “A lot of people might say pumpkin is one of them. It is probably a food that many people do not eat outside of the holiday season. Certainly, you could eat pumpkin in July, but you might not want it and it might not even taste as good because it is not the right season.” Weather also likely plays a factor. When the long, hot and humid summer finally loosens its grip and temperatures dip a little, certain foods just seem right. “Pumpkin works well with warmer spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg,” Hill said. “But it can also work with savory flavors or herbs, such as sage or thyme”.

pumpkin tan pumpkins

Pumpkins can range from giant to tiny. Some smaller varieties are grown for food, including the Cherokee Tan and sugar pie. But typically, we do not buy them to eat them. The locally produced, quintessentially orange pumpkins that are everywhere this time of year are much more likely to be carved as Jack-o-lanterns or used as festive fall decorations than food.

Pumpkins are an increasingly important crop in North Carolina, which ranks in the top five states for production. The favorable climate and soil make western North Carolina an ideal growing spot. Some 4,000 acres will be harvested from the mountains this year, with Allegheny and Ashe counties producing the most. The mountain pumpkin industry has close ties to the Christmas tree industry, with about 75% of pumpkin growers producing both crops. The economic value of the North Carolina pumpkin crop is more than $15 million.

If you would like to learn more about cooking with pumpkin and how they are grown in North Carolina, the read Simon’s full article from NC State Extension.

For interesting pumpkin recipes, visit the Gaston County Cooperative Extension “Somethin’ Pumpkin Recipe Collection”.