Get into the autumn spirit and learn about all things pumpkin.
What is pumpkin?
Pumpkin is part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes both cucumbers and melons, and originated in North America over 9,000 years ago. Historically, pumpkins were an important food staple among Native Americans and would be grown along riverbanks together with corn and beans. This process was known as the ‘Three Sisters Method’ and allowed each crop to support one other. Beans were nourished by sunlight and kept the corn stalks stable on windy days while also replenishing their soil, pumpkins protected the corn's shallow roots and prevented weeds from taking hold, and corn served as the trellis along which the beans could climb.
Pumpkin is high in nutritional value, low in calories and particularly high in vitamin C and E, which both help to strengthen your immune system. Once cooked, both the flesh and seeds can be eaten - the seeds also have many health benefits.
Cooking and preparing pumpkin
A ripe pumpkin should be bright in colour and have a hard exterior. A good test is to try and pierce the shell with your fingernail and gently try to puncture it. The skin should dent but not puncture, which is how you know the pumpkin is perfect.
To prepare a pumpkin to cook, you should first cut it in half going from top to bottom. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and pith but be sure to keep the seeds as they can be used in many recipes. Chop the pumpkin into chunks and place it onto a baking tray. Brush the pumpkin with some olive oil and pop it into the oven at 180C for 45 minutes.
Pumpkins are not only confined to the savoury category but can be used in many dessert recipes. The world-renowned pumpkin dessert, pumpkin pie was originally used as a symbol of harvest and is now particularly popular during Thanksgiving and the autumn months. Want to try out a pumpkin pie recipe for yourself? Click here for Michael Gilligan's delicious recipe.
There are over 150 varieties of pumpkin. Varieties such as Hundredweight or Dill's gigantic giant are more commonly used for Halloween pumpkin carving while other varieties such as Becky are easier to plant in gardens and have a higher eating quality. Butternut squash, turban squash, acorn squash, banana squash and hubbard squash are just a few of the commonly known types of winter squash that come from the same family as pumpkins. Despite all types being edible, butternut squash is full of the most flavour with the turbon varieties being more suitable for decoration.
We have many recipes on the site that use pumpkin but here are a few of our favourites:
- Pumpkin, pastrami and parmesan rocket salad
- Donal Skehan's pumpkin brownie
- Pumpkin, sage and brown butter pasta
Words by Kate O'Callaghan