Pumpkins come in various shapes and sizes. Some have an almost watery consistency, whereas others have a firm consistency. Most of the larger size pumpkins grown in the U.S. are of the Jack O’Lantern variety which are edible, but often lack in flavor. Smaller, thicker type pumpkins are sometimes called sugar pumpkins, but do not let that reference fool you. Sugar pumpkins are good for so much more than sweet pumpkin pies. For example, sugar pumpkin makes a flavorful ravioli stuffing. Adding garlic and basil transforms pumpkin into a savory sauce to ladle over a bed of pasta.
Pumpkins are low in carbohydrates and are considered a ‘super food’ as they are high in Potassium, Vitamin C, and Beta-Carotene. Beta-Carotene is a form of Vitamin A. The orange color of pumpkins is an indication that pumpkins are excellent sources of Beta-Carotene. Beta-Carotene is best obtained from diet versus nutritional supplements. Foods high in Vitamin A may help protect against certain forms of cancer. For example, consuming Beta-Carotene from pumpkin may help reduce pre-menopausal women’s risk of developing breast cancer and post-menopausal women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. The recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin A is about 0.7 mg (700 mcg) for women and 0.9 mg (900 mcg) for men. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains about 5.125 mg of Beta-Carotene. After consumption, our liver converts Beta-Carotene into Vitamin A. Clearly, pumpkin has the potential to be a cancer-preventing super-food!
Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow though they can be challenging for those with limited growing space as the vines are rather lush and thick. Vines can reach about eight feet in length. Pumpkin seeds can be sown directly into the soil after the last frost or when the soil is at least 65 degrees. Seeds should be sown about one inch deep. Seeds should be spaced about four feet apart to make room for the lengthy vines. Pumpkins started in early spring are typically ready by the end of summer or beginning of fall, just in time for ‘pumpkin holidays’ such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Consider making pumpkin a year-round part of your healthy diet. Pumpkins can keep for a couple of months if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Pumpkin can also be canned or frozen for use later in the year. Try growing an exotic or heirloom variety such as Kabocha with its dark green exterior and brilliant orange interior! The varieties are endless! Growing pumpkin is the equivalent of growing a cancer fighting superfood!