Last updated: October 12. 2013 5:37PM - 1933 Views
Mary R. Ehret, M.S.,R.D.,L.D.N. Contributing Columnist

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Bright orange pumpkins are decorating the porches, yards and stores. Here is a bit of pumpkin trivia to share. What are the top four pumpkin-growing counties? They are China, India, Russian Federation and the United States. The top-producing state in the United States is Illinois.

Their bright orange color is a dead giveaway that pumpkins are loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids of which some is converted to vitamin A in the body. The remaining Beta – carotene is used as an antioxidant, which protects the body against disease.

In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Some of those functions of Vitamin A are: promotes good vision, healthy tissue and skin and aids in both the male and female reproductive cycles. Vitamin A also supports growth specifically in bone remodeling or the break down and growth of bone.

Hopefully pumpkins are not just used for decorations. One cup cooked, boiled and drained without salt has only 49 calories, 2 grams of protein, and 564 mg of potassium. It has a whopping 22650 International Units of Vitamin A. Pumpkin also has 3 grams of fiber for every one cup cooked.

Here is what others have used pumpkins for in the past, according to the University of Illinois Extension:

In colonial times, Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin in an open fire.

Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.

Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats.

Native Americans called pumpkins “isqoutm squash.”

Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

Adding pumpkin to your list of vegetables is a great idea. Here are a few ideas. First, purchase pumpkins used for pies or soups and stews. These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. However, you can substitute the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results.

Look for a pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low, the pumpkin will decay quickly or may be decaying at the time of purchase. Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. It should be heavy; shape is unimportant. Try this new soup recipe to feed to your goblins.

Quick and Easy Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Use your favorite pumpkin soup for the “pumpkin tureen” or use this simple recipe. Although this soup is rich and creamy, there is actually no cream in it. The thick body of the soup comes from the pumpkin puree and evaporated skim milk.

2 cups finely chopped onions

2 green onions, sliced thinly, tops included

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 green chili pepper, chopped

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

3 cans chicken broth (14-1/2 oz cans) or 6 cups homemade chicken stock

2 cups pumpkin puree or 1 can (16 oz) solid pack pumpkin

1 bay leaf

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cup undiluted, evaporated skim milk

Pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley

In a 6-quart saucepan, sauté onions, green onions, celery and chili pepper in oil. Cook until onions begin to look translucent. Add broth, pumpkin, bay leaf and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf. Add evaporated milk and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Do not boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, if desired.

Transfer hot soup to pumpkin tureen. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Serve hot. Makes 6 to 8

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