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14.10.2020

Pumpkin

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Cooking with pumpkin

From the end of August, we start to see more and more pumpkins in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Over 200 different edible pumpkins are grown in Germany alone. If we include the non-edible pumpkins grown solely as decorations, the number is quite stupendous. Around 800 different varieties are grown worldwide. These are based on just five different wild species, from which the 800 known varieties that we see today have been cultivated. It all began when the Spanish introduced the pumpkin to Europe in the 16th century, having originated in Central and South America.Now, if you think of the pumpkin as the definitive autumn vegetable, then we have to break it to you that the pumpkin isn’t actually a vegetable at all. With our botanist’s hat on, we can declare that pumpkins are actually classed as a kind of berry. That aside, it can be used to whip up lovely side dishes, casseroles, soups and even baked treats. The versatility of pumpkins for all sorts of delicious creations was discovered 10,000 years ago in Central and South America. In Central Europe, pumpkin was used primarily for animal feed or even for producing oil well into the 20th century. The pumpkin continues to play a starring role in US cuisine to this day, especially at Thanksgiving and, of course, Halloween. 

THE TRADITION OF CARVING FACES INTO PUMPKINS AT HALLOWEEN AND LIGHTING THEM UP BY PLACING A TEALIGHT INSIDE THEM IS AN OLD IRISH TRADITION. THE FLICKERING LIGHT REPRESENTS THE GHOSTLY SPIRIT OF JACK O’LANTERN, AN IRISHMAN WHO IS SAID TO HAVE MADE A PACT WITH THE DEVIL, SO THAT HIS SOUL CAN NEVER REST.

So that’s the history covered. :-) But which pumpkins can we cook and which is the best one to use for particular purposes? Pretty much everyone will be familiar with butternut squash and Hokkaido pumpkins. We look at these and some other popular and delicious varieties here. 

Hokkaido

Use in cooking: suitable for soups or oven-baked

Taste: nutty

Skin: edible

Butternut squash

Use in cooking: delicious cooked or uncooked; good oven-baked and in soups

Taste: nutty and flavoursome

Weight: 1.5 kg on average

Skin: edible, but takes a long time to soften

Medium-sized Muscat pumpkin

Use in cooking: can be eaten cooked or uncooked; works well in soups, vegetable side dishes, chutney or preserves

Taste: intensely flavoursome

Weight: up to 5kg

Skin: edible, but needs to cook for a long time to soften

Winter squash

Use in cooking: good in soups, bakes and even cakes

Weight: Up to 30 kg 

Skin: edible

Turban squash

Use in cooking: suitable for making into soups, and also great stuffed

Skin: not edible

Weight: up to 1.5 kg

Spaghetti squash

Use in cooking: after cooking, the flesh looks like spaghetti and it tastes great with tomato sauce

Skin: edible, but not generally eaten

Weight: up to 3 kg

Acorn squash

Use in cooking: ideal for rösti or oven-baked dishes  

Taste: slightly sweet and nutty

Weight: up to 1.5 kg

Lil’ Pump-Ke-Mon

Use in cooking: can be cooked in the oven or microwave, ideal for cooking whole with a sweet or savoury filling

Skin: edible

Weight: up to 1 kg

Pattypan squash

Use in cooking: can be braised, roasted or pickled

Skin: very small pattypan squash can be eaten with their skin on

Storage: short shelf life

Baby Bear pumpkin

Use in cooking: great in soups, cakes, purées and preserves.

Weight: ‘Mini pumpkins’ up to 1kg

Storage: long shelf life and easy to grow yourself

Skin: not edible

Baby Boo

Flavour: sweetish

Use in cooking: can be eaten raw, cooked stuffed or as a gratin

Skin: edible

Sweet Dumpling

Use in cooking: ideal for casseroles, sweet dishes or stuffed and oven-baked

Weight: 500 g

Storage: long shelf life

Skin: edible

Jack Be Little

Use in cooking: good for roasting

Taste: sweet and nutty, reminiscent of roast chestnuts

Weight: 400 g; this is the smallest of the mini pumpkins

Skin: edible

Howden

Use in cooking: suitable for soups and cakes

Weight: up to 15 kg

Taste: sweet and nutty

Skin: very firm, not recommended for eating

Pink Jumbo Banana

Use in cooking: in breads, casserole, purées and soups

Taste: sweet and nutty

Weight: up to 30 kg

Skin: not edible

Halloween pumpkin – includes the neon, rocket, spirit and Aspen varieties

Use in cooking: best used for decoration only ;-)

Taste: very neutral and somewhat boring

Skin: not edible

Courgette

Courgettes belong to the squash family. The smaller they are, the younger, and the better they taste. If you can track down yellow courgettes, give them a go – they are also very tasty.

If you want to cook a pumpkin in its skin, opt for organic produce so that you can avoid any pesticides on or in the skin. 

If you’re keen on growing pumpkins within your own garden, play it safe by getting your seeds from a specialist shop. Edible gourds should not be planted near decorative pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers or melons. If the pollen of these plants gets crossed with that of your crop, it will render your pumpkins inedible. If you’re using bona fide pumpkin seeds but aren’t sure whether your neighbour might be growing cucumbers or the like, be sure to taste your pumpkin raw before cooking it. If the pumpkin has a bitter flavour, it is toxic. If it smells unpleasant rather than fragrant and slightly sweet, it is also toxic! But before throwing all of the seeds in the bin, try roasting them in the oven first. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Omega 6 fatty acids, vitamin E, potassium, proteins, magnesium, iron and zinc. What’s more, they taste great and giving the finishing touch to any dish. It’s easy to prepare the seeds. Steep them in water for a day, then clean them so that every fibre has been removed. Now leave them to dry for a day. You can season the seeds however you wish – with sea salt and garlic for a savoury snack, perhaps, or honey and cinnamon for a sweet version. And ta-da! – you have a tasty treat!

Whether you fancy making delicious roasted pumpkin seeds, whizzing up a scrumptious soup from the flesh or want to put together some autumnal decorations for your garden, there’s something very satisfying about making the most of pumpkins. And autumn simply wouldn’t feel right without them.

Let’s get carving and baking: it’s that time of year again! :-)

© NGV mbH, Photo: Manuela Rüther
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Herb tart with pumpkin and hazelnuts
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Herb tart with pumpkin and hazelnuts
© NGV mbH, Photo: TLC Fotostudio
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© NGV mbH, Photo: Manuela Rüther
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© NGV mbH, Foto: TLC Fotostudio
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