Pumpkin is not only used in cooking but also in cosmetics, medicine and even
as a container and utensil.
Pumpkins originate from central America and the oldest pumpkin seeds ever found were discovered in Mexico and dated back to 7000-6000 B.C. In North America, pumpkin was a staple food for the Indians and the first colonies learnt how to grow them from these native populations. Together with potatoes and tomatoes, pumpkins were the first vegetables to be exported after the discovery of America.
Pumpkins come from the large cucurbitaceae family and there are many different varieties that regard the shape as well as the colour. The most common types are the cucurbita maxima (for example, sweet pumpkin, green in colour) and the cucurbita moschata (for example, butternut squash), which should not be confused with cucurbita pepo, a species that includes common vegetables like courgettes. The fruit of the cucurbita maxima, considered the best pumpkin, has a voluminous form, a flat top and is characterised by a thick, green skin marked with deep, vertical ridges. It is usually very big (it can weigh up to 80kg) and the cucurbita maxima has a yellow-orange, powdery, sweet flesh. The cucurbita moschata on the other hand, is long, cylindrical, a bit ‘puffy’ at the tip, it can be green or orange, of medium size and the flesh is soft and sweet.
How to choose a good pumpkin
Pumpkins are sown in the Spring and mature in August. When buying them it is important to check that they are both fresh, hard and ripe: knock on it with your knuckles to ensure it makers a hollow noise. The stem should also be attached to the pumpkin and the skin should be clean and free from any marks. Given that pumpkins are usually very big, they are sometimes sold in slices but, in this case, keep in mind that the skin and seeds make up 30-35% of what you buy and make sure that the fleshy part has not been exposed to the air for too long and become dry.
How to preserve pumpkin
A pumpkin (still in one piece) can be preserved for the whole of Winter in a dark, fresh, dry place. Pieces of raw pumpkin however, should be placed in the fridge, normally in the vegetable compartment, wrapped up in cling film. They should then be eaten within a few days since they easily dry out. If you wish to preserve pumpkin in the freezer however, peel the skin off, cut the pumpkin into cubs and parboil them first before freezing.
A pumpkin can fill a whole menu, from starter to dessert, as it has many uses and each plate is very tasty and healthy. The nutritional properties of the pumpkin can be found below.
|Nutritional properties (per 100g of pumpkin)|
|Total carbohydrates 3.4g|
|Soluble carbohydrates 2.7g|
|Energy 15 Kcal|
|Vitamin B1 0.03mg|
|Vitamin B2 0.02mg|
|Vitamin A 599mcg|
|Vitamin PP 0.5mg|
|Vitamin C 9mg|
The properties of pumpkin
Pumpkins have many properties so let us start with the flesh. Pumpkin flesh has several active ingredients, including carotenoids, as well as mucilage and pectin substances. The seeds are also important because they contain phytosterols, oily fats, melene and phytolecithin. Furthermore, freshly crushed pumpkin seeds produce a dark oil, whilst toasted and salted seeds are served as nibbles and appetizers. These seeds also have a medical function as they can combat taenia echinococcus (tape worm). This property comes from cucurbitin, an amino acid that literally paralyses the worm and causes it to come off of the intestinal walls. This use of pumpkin seeds as a vermicide is well known, generally well tolerated and without contradictions. However, this is not the only useful function pumpkin seeds have; they can also alleviate skin inflammation and prevent urinary tract dysfunctions. Pumpkin flesh and juice can even be used as diuretics and experts recommend drinking a glass of pumpkin juice in the morning on an empty stomach. Furthermore, it is apparent that an extract of pumpkin juice, mixed with milk, works well for gastric problems and prostate diseases.
Pumpkins and cosmetics
Pumpkin flesh can be used to make a very good beauty mask that can tone and brighten the face. It is made by crushing a slice of raw pumpkin, with the seeds still on it, and mixing it with a spoonful of honey. It should be applied to the face and left on for a few minutes after which, almost miraculously, all types skin, and especially oily skin with lots of black heads, become much cleaner and smoother.
Pumpkin and cooking
A whole meal really can be made from just one pumpkin, from starters (savoury pumpkin pie), main courses (pumpkin tortellini) and sides (it is known to compliment pork, for example), to desserts where pumpkin is used in the typical American pudding, pumpkin pie. The most ‘classic’ way to enjoy pumpkin is to cut it into think slices and part-cook them in the oven and then dress them with a bit of butter and salt.
Pumpkin used as a container
All over the world pumpkins are used as containers: in Africa, people make water operated smoking pipes from pumpkins, where the smoke produced by the small burner is sent through a wood cylinder in the water contained in the pumpkin, and in the upper part there is a hole from which the filtered smoke is inhaled.
Some pumpkins come from the cucurbita lagenaria variety which, when they have fully matured, have a very thick skin and were once cultivated in the countryside with the precise aim of turning them into containers, carafes for wine or water, or funnels. For this reason the lagenaria pumpkin is also called the ‘wine pumpkin’ because, once dried and hollowed out, the inside cavity can be used to preserve or transport wine or other liquids. Smaller pumpkins on the other hand, after being dried and half hollowed out, are used as spoons or ladles.