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Whether you are creating a new culinary masterpiece or adding your own touch to grandma’s 100-year-old tried and true pie recipe, one thing any chef or baker truly wants is to use the best and freshest ingredients. Libby’s brand of canned pumpkin is the most well-known brand available in the American market, canning an estimated 85% of the world’s pumpkin each year. The company makes the claim to ensure freshness, pumpkins are canned on the same day they are harvested (make sure you open these special treats with your best can opener).
Although there are several hundred types of pumpkin, Libby’s uses only one type of pumpkin, the Dickinson.
For baking, small pumpkins, less than ten inches across are recommended. Pumpkins will keep more than six months when stored properly and will increase in flavor with a little time. Keep in a cool place or under refrigeration. Choose firm, heavy pumpkins. The rind should be hard without any soft spots, blemishes or cracks.
The pumpkin market is very seasonal. If you want to purchase fresh pumpkin on a commercial scale, the top pumpkin production states are Illinois, Ohio, California, New York and Pennsylvania. According to the USDA, growing seasons are from April 1st – July 31st and August 1st – November 30th for California crops; June 1st – June 25th and September 1st – October 31st for Illinois and Michigan crops; and May 20-25th – June 10-30th and September 1-20th – October 31-November 10th in the northern states of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
If you are planning to pick your own pumpkin, you may also want to inquire about the availability of pumpkin flowers. Pumpkin flowers are edible and can be used for a beautiful garnish or they can be used in developing your own unique entree. As with zucchini, the flowers can be stuffed and fried or baked.
Preparing fresh pumpkin flesh
Break off the pumpkin stem. Cut across the top of the pumpkin to expose center cavity. Scoop out seeds. Retain the seeds for toasting. You can leave the pumpkin whole or cut it into pieces in order to fit in the oven. If desired, season the interior of the pumpkin or the flesh side of the pieces. If you are leaving the pumpkin whole, replace the cap and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. If you need to cut the pumpkin, wrap the pieces in foil and place the pieces cut sides up, on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 Degree F. oven until the flesh is very tender, about 1 hour. Cool until able to handle. Scoop out the flesh and mash, puree or push through a fine sieve, draining off as much water as you can. Use as you would for canned pumpkin.
Water content makes the difference and be aware of safety precautions regarding fresh pumpkin processing.
The best tip anyone can give someone who is going to use fresh pumpkin in baking recipes is that the processing of pumpkin for canning includes removing as much water from the flesh as possible. You will want to drain liquids from the flesh of the pumpkin. Drain in a colander lined with cheesecloth, folding the cheesecloth over the puree and weighing down with a plate.
Pureed pumpkin will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer. The USDA’s Extension Service does not recommend the home canning of pureed pumpkin.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the need for better nutrition in their diets. It is important to consider nutritional values when developing dishes for healthier eating habits. Pumpkin has few calories, but is high in fiber. Pumpkin is rich in Vitamins A, B, and C. The more orange the pumpkin, the more Vitamin A it contains. The role of Vitamin A in the body is important. Vitamin A is essential for the proper function of your vision, skin health and absorption of antioxidants that promotes immunity to disease. Vitamin A also promotes other functions that reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and aids in healthy reproduction and embryonic development. Cooking with fresh pumpkin is also rich other necessary minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium.
Fresh pumpkin versus canned pumpkin – Values are per cup, mashed (245 grams) for fresh pumpkin (cooked, boiled, drained, no salt) and canned pumpkin, without salt. Fresh pumpkin values are listed first and canned pumpkin values are listed second.
- Water – Fresh: 229.54 grams, Canned: 220.43 grams.
- Protein – Fresh: 1.76, Canned: 2.69 grams
- Fat – 0.17 grams, Canned: 0.69 grams
- Carbohydrate – Fresh: 12.01, Canned: 7.1 grams
- Fiber – Fresh: 2.7, Canned 7.1 grams
- Sugar – Fresh: 2.5, Canned: 8.09 grams
- Calcium – Fresh: 37, Canned: 64 mg.
- Iron – Fresh: 1.40, Canned 3.41 mg.
- Potassium – Fresh: 564, Canned: 505 mg.
- Sodium – Fresh: 2, Canned: 12 mg.
- Vitamin C – Fresh: 11.5, Canned 10.3 mg.
- Cholesterol – 0 mg.
- Caffeine – 0 mg.
- Beta Carotene – Fresh: 5135, Canned:17003 mcg.
- Alpha Carotene – Fresh: 853, Canned: 11748 mcg.
Save the seeds
Pumpkins seeds (pepitas) as a snack food have gained in popularity over the last few years. According to nutrition data, the roasted seeds are have 151 calories per ounce with 13.5 grams of fat. 5 mg. sodium, 7 grams of protein and 0 cholesterol. The seeds are great for roasting as a snack. They can also be used for garnish or ground up to add a nutty flavor to your baking products.
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