Different types of pumpkins for different people

This is not about Halloween and how to make a lantern, or even about tired old pumpkin pie. After all the tricking and treating we can enjoy pumpkins in the hoe and kitchen in 101 ways.

Pumpkin jazzCredit: Sue Visser

We all have our favourite pumpkins, usually the ones that are sliced and chopped and bagged by the supermarkets. But a real pumpkin is the whole thing, pips and all. Sometimes they are so huge they can feed a family for weeks on end. That is when you need to bulk process the pumpkin flesh, collect the seeds and grapple with the tough outer skin. During Halloween it is the whole pumpkin skin or shell that is used. We can use up the abandoned pumpkin flesh to make pumpkin fritters and pumpkin pies but it can also be used for many purposes. For instance, a lot of cheap commercial fruit jam is bulked up with pumpkins!

There are many sub-species of the Cucurbita or pumpkin family. Some have a creamier texture - especially the butternuts and squashes. Their flesh ranges in colour from the pale yellow zucchini to the deep orange Hubbard squashes and golden butternuts. Some grow during the winter and some prefer the summer. Pumpkins grow on the ground on a green network of trailing vines that produce yellow flowers – the favourite food of many insects! Pumpkins can have stripes and come in funky shapes so are often dried out and only used as a gourd - a hollow container to keep gunpowder or snuff in. Pumpkins are easy to grow and the seeds are worth collecting, once you know how valuable they are for keeping animals free of tapeworm or even for their valuable role in providing beta sitosterol – a chemical that controls testosterone imbalances.

The pumpkin flesh

The yellow and orange flesh already tells us this is a good source of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Moderate amounts of minerals as well as vitamin B and C are also present. Pumpkin is not really fattening and only provides 30 kcal per 100 g. But watch out for all that sugar and butter!  To prepare pumpkin flesh for the table it is usually removed from the tough skin. An easier way is to cut up a pumpkin into large chunks and boil them. This makes the flesh easier to scoop out and punnets of it can be frozen for later use. I often toss the pumpkin chunks into the same pot as the dry peas or beans that cook for a long time to save energy. Thinner slices of pumpkin or butternut can be roasted in the oven and if the skin is softer it can be eaten.

Ideas for savoury pumpkin dishes

Roast pumpkin wedges sprinkled with pumpkin seeds: Cut 1 cm thick slices of butternut or pumpkin then add them to the roasting tray with halved potatoes, sliced onions and red peppers. Splash on some olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper and sea salt then bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven. Add the pumpkin seeds after the first 10 minutes and sprinkle with more salt and sprigs of rosemary.

Boiled and mashed pumpkin served with butter and cinnamon: This is an old favourite, especially as a baby food with rice. It reminds me of boarding school lunches because they used to add sugar to most of our vegetables - boring. For a dessert add some raisins and pour on yoghurt or custard.

Pumpkin and seeds for flapjacksCredit: Sue Visser

Add pumpkin chunks to soup, stew, curry or casseroles: If you include the pumpkin at the beginning, it will soften to a pulp that can be stirred in just before serving to thicken the dish. You may still need to add a little rice flour to complete the effect and there is no need to mix rice flour with water – just chuck it in. To retain the shape and texture of the pumpkin chunks you can add them later on. 

Pumpkin flapjacks and fritters: Add cooked pumpkin pulp to the batter of flapjacks to give them a lovely golden colour. Pumpkin fritters are best made with your favourite recipe. Add some raw grated pumpkin shreds to either of the mixtures for extra taste, colour and texture. These mixtures can also be used in an electric doughnut or cookie machine. I like to sprinkle sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds into the moulds before pouring in the batter.

Shredded pumpkin fold overCredit: Sue Visser

Pumpkin flip-overs with melted cheese: In a heated pan with olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and brown sugar. Add a thick layer of raw grated pumpkin and turn the heat to medium. Then pour on a layer of batter similar to your favourite flapjack mixture. Top it with some grated cheese, cover the pan with a plate and turn off the heat. After a few minutes fold the one half over the other and serve as two wedges. It is also nice served cold as a snack – if you can wait!

Simple pumpkin soups for all seasons

Spicy curried soup with peanut sauce is a variation on the cream of pumpkin soup. Add your favourite curry spice mixture during the cooking or spice up one of the cream of pumpkin soups you have stashed in the freezer. The spicy peanut sauce is a mixture of hot milk, peanut butter and soy sauce, stirred together until it is smooth and creamy. Add more heat with chillies or Tabasco sauce.Cream of pumpkin soup is a classic and other vegetables like onions, leeks, potato and sweet potato will enrich the flavour. Process the vegetables with the stock they are cooked with into a smooth creamy consistency. Enjoy as a soup, hot or cold and serve with cream or yoghurt. Freeze portions and use as a baby food with rice and leftover vegetables – especially roast pumpkin!

Cold sweet and sour pumpkin soup is made out of pumpkin purée, blended with a soup stock of your choice. Apricot jam makes an excellent sweet and sour combination. Also add raisins, apricots or other dried fruit. Soak the mixture overnight in leftover tea before blending it in. If you don’t have any just use sugar and vinegar - like the Chinese do. Serve the soup in glasses with sticks of celery with a swirl of yoghurt and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Hot tomato, paprika and pumpkin soup can be derived from the sweet and sour recipe by adding some tomato purée, chilli sauce and paprika powder. The smoked paprika adds a meaty flavour to it.


Snacks and salads we can make out of pumpkins

Pumpkin ribbons for pastaCredit: Sue Visser

Shred up the peeled raw pumpkin chunks with an ordinary grater, a food processor or a special Julienne (Mandolin) slicer. Large amounts of processed raw pumpkin comes in handy to sprinkle on salads, to marinade, stir fry or add to cakes, puddings and savoury dishes. Pumpkin shreds can also make a healthy substitute for pasta when they are soaked in boiling water and blanched  (rinsed with cold water).

Serve them with a rich sauce and you can stay free from wheat and gluten! The best fake pasta is made out of large courgettes (zucchini) as they are more flexible than orange pumpkins and have a pale colour. These have become popular with carb-free diets such as the Atkins or copy-cat Banting diet. If the courgettes are smaller

Try pumpkin and turnip shreds marinated in lime juice, black pepper and olive oil as a side dish to sushi or use pumpkin strips as part of the filling when you roll up sushi rice to make kimono rolls.

Enjoy a starter or snack of blanched pumpkin shreds (potato peeler) sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil and a thick balsamic reduction.

Cut up zig zag chunks of pumpkin flesh and have them stir fried with red onion and green pepper strips as a side dish or eaten cold on lettuce as a salad.

Make a creamy pesto pumpkin seed dressing to have with pumpkin fritters. Use a food processor to mill the pumpkin seeds with onion, basil leaves, garlic and olive oil. Season it to taste with soy sauce.

Add shredded pumpkinCredit: Sue Visser

Add pumpkin pulp to white cooked cannelloni beans to make a fake humus dip. Mash them together with olive oil, cumin, garlic, salt and coriander. Other dips can be made out of baked beans mashed with pumpkin pulp and spiced up with paprika and your favourite chilli. This makes a great base for nachos or as a base for toasted cheese.

Sweet treats made out of pumpkins

Add cooked pumpkin pulp to cakes, scones, muffins and crumpets to give them a golden glow and a moister texture. Alternatively toss in some of the raw grated pumpkin shreds and they will add some interest and texture to their appearance. Any recipe such as a Xmas pudding or cake that includes grated carrots can benefit from pumpkin as well. The cooked pumpkin pulp can be mixed with smooth apricot jam, heated up as a sticky sauce or a glaze to pour over the cake or pudding. The sticky hot pumpkin sauce is also nice with ice cream. Marmalade makes a delicious alternative to apricot or peach jam. 

When you need more filling for a tart, the fruit mixture can be padded out with a little pumpkin either as an anonymous pulp or craftily sliced to resemble peaches, apricots and so on. Try this inside out pumpkin pie. made from thin slices of raw pumpkin. Use them to line the dish that is greased up with butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Arrange a few layers of raw pumpkin slices to resemble a "crust". Pour in the cake batter and bake as usual. 

Inside out pumpkin pieCredit: Sue Visser

Pumpkin balls (like we make from melons) can be poached in hot sugary syrup and spiced with grated ginger and cinnamon. Serve them with the pumpkin and apricot jam glaze and a splash of custard.  They can be popped into a bowl of cold curry soup and sprinkled with ground up roasted pumpkin seeds.

Cooked pumpkin flesh can be added to smoothies that contain bananas without anybody noticing. Also use the cooked flesh to stretch out tomato paste or pesto sauce.

Feed the leftover cooked pumpkin morsels to cats and dogs mixed with a bit of their canned pet food. Most of our furry friends love orange fruit and vegetables –it  must be the beta carotene!

Using the pumpkin seeds

Sprout the pumpkin seeds for extra nutrition. As we know, these seeds are rich in zinc and omega oils. It is easy enough to soak the seeds in water overnight and then tip them into a sieve with a plate on top for a day or two. You can sprout them with cumin and mustard seeds for extra zing. They make great toppings for soups or open sandwiches.

Candy from pumpkinCredit: Sue Visser

Snack bars made out of seed combinations often include pumpkin seeds. Make your own sugar free version by boiling up equal parts of water and xylitol until the syrup thickens and then add the pumpkin seeds along with sesame, sunflower and flax seeds. Stir them with a wooden spoon until they become sticky globs. Spoon out the mixture onto an oiled flat surface. Tap it into squares, rounds or bars and allow it to dry. Xylitol produces a firm hard snack bar and does not get stick like a toffee. Your dentist will be happy that this kind of sugar is good for teeth and even prevents decay.

Roasted pumpkin seeds with salt are totally delicious and Mexicans call them pepitos. They are eaten as snacks or added to many dishes. A roasted mixture of seeds is worth making in larger quantities as it makes a satisfying snack and adds more of a bite to soups, stir fries and salads.

Mexican tamalesCredit: Sue Visser

Fresh pumpkin seeds, still in their husk are traditionally used for expelling tapeworms in cattle. They are blended into a mush with water. For humans, rather sieve the mixture through a cloth to exclude the hard prickly bits. The fresh juice of pumpkins is a good source of beta sito-sterol. This chemical helps to control the metabolic pathway of testosterone both in men and women. It can be used as part of an extensive protocol for women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).

Pumpkin seed oil is delicious but needs to be kept in the refrigerator once the bottle is opened as it goes rancid. The oil is expensive and not very popular for cooking as it does not have a good heat tolerance. It is best to add it to pesto sauce, dips and salads.

Grind up pumpkin seeds to add to cereals, use them for baking or for sprinkling over roasted vegetables. A popular Mexican hard-boiled egg dish (tamales) includes ground up pumpkin seeds in the dough that surrounds the egg.

The seeds taken from a pumpkin can be washed and dried in the sun to use for making necklaces. The seeds can be dyed, painted and varnished to make attractive necklaces and wall hangings.

The pumpkin shell can be used in many crafty ways

Obviously pumpkins are hollowed out and made into Halloween lanterns. But they can also be used afterwards as a planter for a punnet of petunias of marigolds. Just cover the cut outs with aluminium foil and fill up the shell with rich potting soil. Then go to the nursery and buy some colourful seedlings. If you have the patience, buy a few packets of seeds – parsley and basil, for instance. 

Use a hollowed out pumpkin shell to serve soup in, is an obvious centrepiece for a festive table. But after that, pack it full of vegetables and odds and ends that belong in a slow cooked casserole. Wrap the whole thing in aluminium foil and place it on a bed of hot coals. Heap up the coals all around it and go to work for the day. This is how it is done traditionally in places like Morocco at communal fires that are looked after by the villagers. But they use clay pots instead of pumpkins.

Chop off the bottom quarter end of butternuts or pumpkins. Remove the seeds. Fill up the cavity with veggies, onions, butter and spices and slow cook them in a steamer or roast them in the oven or on hot coals. To save cooking time, give the base a blast in the microwave, before filling it.  The pumpkin “dishes” can be steamed and boiled, before roasting to make sure the flesh is soft when serving the final result.

Pumpkin shell for cookingCredit: Sue Visser

Disposable ash or mini trash trays can also be made out of these hollowed out pumpkin bases. Fill them with sand and place a candle or a stick of incense with them.

After their career in ash and trash, use them for seedling trays or as a base for training your own bonsai tree. Basically when the roots penetrate the pumpkin shell, you snip them off and thus stunt the growth of the tree. If this tickles your fancy it may be worth learning more about bonsai.

The whole dried shell of smaller pumpkins is used to make gourds or calabashes - basically a gourd is a container with a hard outer shell. Special varieties of pumpkins called gourds are generally used. The dried result can be trimmed down to make drinking bowls or attached to sticks to make a ladle. In South Africa these items are still popular with rural Africans for drinking a home-brew made from sorghum. In South America the brew is made from corn and has quite a kick to it. The whole gourd can be filled with pebbles or seeds and attached to a stick to make a rattle. These are popular for both babies and Latin American music lovers alike.

Offcuts of pumpkin peel are used for gardening and handicrafts

Strips of the pumpkin shell make handy little scrapers for cleaning scraps from dinner plates. Depending on how you cut them, these organic, disposable gadgets can be used for scraping out jam jars, baking dishes, yucky pots and spills of you – know – what on the floor. Wrap the whole lot in newspaper and tip it into the bin to reduce your fly and maggot problem. They are good for cleaning goo off paintbrushes and clearing paint off the rim of the tin before closing it. By the way, always cover the paint pot with cling film and the lid will come off easily next time.

Meanwhile back in the garden, chopped up pumpkin peel can be packed around plants that need mulching and will help to keep the soil moist and cool. They will self – decompose and you can top up with other kitchen scraps, to the delight of snails that may prefer them to your priceless petunia

The top of the pumpkin or what we call its lid can make a table centre piece for holding snacks threaded onto skewers or toothpicks. The hollowed out base can be used for a tasty dip, obviously made with some of the cooked pumpkin pulp and your favourite condiments. (See the cookery section for recipe ideas.) 

DIY handicraft enthusiasts love block printing or making potato cuts. Why waste a potato? 

Cut and use scraps for printingCredit: Sue Visser

Chop off the top of a butternut that has a longer stem and you have the perfect print block. Carve out your design and use natural colourants, such as beetroot or spinach juice. Use other off cuts of peel to make different components of the picture. Print motifs on paper serviettes and make your own wrapping paper. Combine with other waste materials to make gifts and gift boxes. Wipe down your set of print blocks and keep them in the refrigerator, wrapped first in newspaper and then in a plastic bag.  

The pumpkin shoots and flowers can also be eaten

As a green vegetable, pumpkin shoots have been used by primitive hunter gatherers as part of a stewed mixture of wild green leaves mixed with potato and onion. Africans call it “maroc”. The delicate young leaves at the tips of pumpkin vines can be picked and used for garnishes or blanched and enjoyed with other vegetables. Serve creamy pumpkin soup decorated with pumpkin shoots, especially with a few tendrils included.

Pumpkin shootsCredit: Sue Visser

The large vase-shaped yellow pumpkin flowers are used as a skin for different savoury fillings that include mixtures of vegetables, meat and rice. The stuffed pumpkin flowers are then baked or steamed and enjoyed as a unique dish.

Conclusion – 101 ideas? If you count them, there are probably a lot more, especially with all the variations that could have been included. Then there are your ideas and favourite recipes we could have added and lastly, we forgot about Cinderella and her carriage!

Enjoy the 3 minute movie: how to jazz up your pumpkins. 

Enjoy the music, soak up the ideas!