The warm and sweet nature of pumpkin makes it one of the most delightful comfort foods to be enjoyed roasted, steamed and smeared with butter, or blended into soups in the cooler months.
This large trailing plant with yellow, bell-shaped flowers, will take up a lot of room in the garden, and if you've ever grown pumpkins you may have memories of them wildly overrunning the backyard at quite a remarkable pace.
There are many varieties of pumpkin. Butternut produces small to medium pear-shaped fruit with deep orange flesh. Buttercup are small to medium round pumpkins with dark green skin.
There are a number of large pumpkins, some round and flattish - good for storage and eating - others will produce the "Cinderella coach" type giant round fruit which are not as lovely for eating.
Like most fruits and vegetables, pumpkin comes in a number of varieties, all of which are both hugely beneficial for your health and absolutely delicious on your plate. Some different types of pumpkin to consider are:
Queensland Blue Pumpkin: as the name suggests this Australian grown variety of pumpkin has a bluish-green skin with classic orange flesh. This variety tends to grow to around 3-5 kg and can be grown all year long in tropical climates.
Butternut Pumpkin: sometimes referred to as Butternut Squash, this variety tends to have an oblong bell like shape, with yellowish skin and an orange flesh. It tends to have a slightly sweeter and nuttier flavour compared to other pumpkins and has an average size of around 2 kg.
Jap Pumpkin: also known as Kent Pumpkin has green skin mottled with yellow and brown patches, with orange flesh. This nutty variety has an average weight of 4 kg, with a longer maturation process.
These are the most common types of pumpkins grown in Australia however there are so many amazing varieties out there to investigate, like Atlantic Giant Pumpkins and Golden-nugget pumpkins, just to name a few! In other parts of the world they come in all shapes and sizes from small to jumbo varieties, and favourites include, Jack-o-Lantern, Baby Bear and even a Spooktacular.
Background: The word pumpkin originates from the Greek word Pepõn which means “large melon”. The word then gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word "pumpkin." Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas, however these early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today. Pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in Canada and the United States, and in these countries they are frequently carved as jack-o'-lanterns for decoration around Halloween. I have my own healthy version of a raspberry studded pumpkin pie you might like to try the recipe here.
Interesting fact: Early Native Americans first prepared pumpkin by cooking it in strips over campfires and they used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They also ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin was also stored and ground into flour!
In season: The general pumpkin harvesting season is autumn in Australia. However pumpkins grow exceptionally well in weather around 20-35 degrees, making it the perfect plant to grow in more tropical climates of Australia all year round. In the US they are planted in July as a warm weather crop but can be grown all year round. In the UK they are harvested between October and December perfect timing for Halloween.
Health benefits: Pumpkins are an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory food; helping with joint health, organ health, stress relief and soft tissue injuries! They can also help protect the eyes from cataracts and degeneration with their significant Vitamin A content.
The high levels of Vitamin C in pumpkins help to boost the immune system and encourage collagen production for the skin to maintain its beautiful glow and elasticity. They're also a great source of fiber to help maintain the health and detoxification of your digestive tract which helps keep your body running smoothly.
What to look for: Always inspect the pumpkin to see if it has any cuts, bruises or strange discolouration on its skin. If the pumpkin doesn’t look 100% on the outside, chances are it won’t be very nice once you take it home and cut it open. If you find a pumpkin that visually seems to meet the grade, hold it up to your ear and give it a firm knock. A beautiful healthy pumpkin will produce a solid woody sound, similar to a knock on a door or a wooden table.
Storing: Keep your pumpkins in a cool, dry and well-ventilated spot in your kitchen. Too much heat will cause your pumpkin to age and decompose quickly. You can also segment your pumpkin, wrap it in cling wrap and store it in the fridge. However this is more likely to cause the pumpkin to decline in flavour and quality more rapidly, but it’s a good option is
Preparation: Delicious in scones, soup, curries and puddings, the sweet, creamy texture of pumpkin also makes it a favourite in vegetarian curries and other dishes. To enjoy it simply, chop it into large chunks, drizzle with coconut oil and roast for 40 minutes at 180 degrees. I also love to incorporate it into mashed cauliflower, create a pumpkin and brown rice seeded salad grate it into omelettes, steam it, make a pumpkin soup with coconut milk and even add it sliced thinly into stir fries and curries. However the ultimate way to enjoy it is in your morning porridge!
Amaranth, Walnut and Pumpkin Porridge
This earthy porridge is the perfect morning comfort food. It’s super steamy and deliciously creamy. Delectability aside, this breakfast also boasts a healing hit of medicinal anti-inflammatory spices. You can also swap out amaranth for oats in the same quantity.
- 1/4 pumpkin (winter squash), peeled and chopped into 3 cm (11/4 inch) pieces
- 115 g (4 oz/1 cup) walnuts
- 100 g (31/2 oz/1/2 cup) amaranth, soaked in water overnight, see note
- 375 ml (13 fl oz/11/2 cups) coconut or almond milk, plus extra, to serve
- pinch of Celtic sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon rice malt syrup to sweeten (optional)
- 20 g (3/4 oz/1/3 cup) unsweetened coconut flakes
Line a bamboo steamer with baking paper and steam the pumpkin over a saucepan of gently simmering water for 7 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and purée.
Dry roast the walnuts in a frying pan over medium heat and set aside.
Drain the amaranth in a fine sieve and rinse under cold running water. Transfer to a saucepan with the coconut milk, pumpkin purée, salt, spices, vanilla and lemon zest and bring to the boil. Reduce the temperature to its lowest setting, cover and simmer, stirring often, for 15 minutes. You may need to add more coconut milk if the mixture is looking too dry. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes.
To serve, divide between two bowls, drizzle with the extra coconut milk and rice malt syrup, if using, and scatter over the walnuts and coconut flakes.
Note: You can substitute the same quantity of rolled oats for the amaranth.
Happy cooking 🙂