It's pumpkin season, and many people have the tradition of visiting the pumpkin patch. Whether selecting the perfect pumpkin for carving jack-o'-lanterns or decorating them uncarved, selecting one is simple. Look for a pumpkin that has good weight, a stem that isn't cut too short to ensure that it's not decaying, stands well for display, and doesn't show any visible softness or bruises.
Although all varieties can be fun to display, not all pumpkins are ideal for cooking. If you're interested in cooking pumpkin, look for smaller pie pumpkins that weigh about four pounds because they are sweeter and less stringy. A four-pound pumpkin should yield about 1-1/2 cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin.
The following are ways to enjoy your pumpkin.
DECORATION: Painting pumpkins can be less messy and less risky than carving for young children, and there are no concerns that your pumpkin might not last long before rotting. You can embellish them by using markers, stencils, acrylic paints, glue, stickers, sequins, buttons, glitter and yarn. Kids can even decoupage pumpkins by using decoupage sealer and magazine cutouts. Mini-pumpkin gourds are cute when a piece of floral foam is hot glued to the top and lollipops are inserted into the foam. Hollowed-out larger pumpkins make pretty vases for flowers and can be used as a cooler for bottles of soft drinks, or you can place a jar or plastic container inside and fill with treats.
COOKED: You can cook and puree pumpkin and use it in various recipes that call for canned pumpkin and even some squash recipes.
STEAMED: Cut the pumpkin in half, and remove seeds and stringy pulp. Cut into small chunks, peel, and steam for 45 minutes.
MICROWAVED: Cut it in half, scoop out the inside, and microwave for six to eight minutes or until tender.
BAKED: Cut in half, scoop out, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 F for around 45 minutes or until tender. Once removed from the oven, scrape the cooked pumpkin out to separate it from the peel, and mash or puree.
BOILED: Prepare same as you would for steamed pumpkin, but immerse directly into salted water and boil 25 to 30 minutes or until tender.
Cooked pumpkin can be frozen and stored in freezer-safe containers for six months or refrigerated for up to four days.
DON'T TOSS THE SEEDS: The seeds can be toasted and enjoyed as a sweet or salty snack. Simply remove as much pulp as you can, and decide whether you'd like to bake, pan-roast, or microwave your seeds. Once they're roasted, you can add flavors such as seasoned salt, cinnamon and sugar, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce or garlic salt.
BAKED: Using 2 cups of pumpkin seeds, toss seeds in a bowl with 3 teaspoons of melted butter or olive oil, spread a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with seasoning of choice, and bake in a 300 F oven for 40 minutes or until toasted golden brown. You can add more seasoning after they're roasted.
STOVETOP: Pan-roast pumpkin seeds by adding 1 cup at a time in a skillet with heat on medium. Stir them frequently, and continue heating until they puff up and are brown. Remove from heat and season.
MICROWAVED: Using a glass dish, microwave seeds in 1-cup increments. Start with 1 cup of seeds tossed in the glass dish with 2 teaspoons of oil, and microwave a minute at a time until crispy. Season after cooked.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cooked pumpkin
3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift first seven ingredients together, and set aside. In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar together, add the pumpkin and milk, and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Gradually add the sifted ingredients.
Bake in a greased and floured pan: two loaf pans, 50 to 55 minutes; 13-by-9-inch pan, 30 to 35 minutes; Bundt pan, 55 to 65 minutes; muffin tin, 20 to 25 minutes.
-- Submitted by Dee in New York
Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or firstname.lastname@example.org.