The December Fruit of the Month is Pumpkin!
Did you know…
Even though we tend to think of them as hearty fall vegetables, pumpkins are actually a type of fruit – yes, fruit! Pumpkins have seeds; so botanically, they’re considered fruit. This means that all squash, and lots of other foods we usually categorize as vegetables – like tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and peppers are also technically fruit. Bottom line: no matter how you look at it, pumpkin is a fall and winter favorite packed with vitamins, and a delicious addition to a healthy diet.
Pumpkins are a type of squash that’s been around for thousands of years (the oldest pumpkin seeds – from Mexico – are over 5,000 years old!), but it wasn’t always a popular part of the menu. When European colonists began adopting foods native to North America, pumpkin was used more often to feed animals than people. Eventually, however, pumpkin became more popular as part of the standard autumn fare – roasted, blended, and added to the table along other proper vegetables as an accompaniment to roasted meats; and of course, baked and sweetened for the traditional Thanksgiving pie!
As the weather cools in early fall, pumpkin (and pumpkin spice everything) starts popping up on menus, in supermarkets, farmer’s markets, roadside by the truck-load, and at local farms and pumpkin patches all over the country.
Pumpkins are very nutritious – they get their orange color from a range of carotenoid compounds (much like carrots), all of which are converted to Vitamin A by the body. Pumpkins are also high in Vitamin C and and beta-carotene.
Fun fact: most of the pumpkin plant is edible. In addition to the meat, you can roast the seeds (sometimes called “pepitas”), steam or sauté the leaves for spring rolls, or even flash-fry the flowers!
Of course, the main question on your mind may be “how do I pick a good pumpkin?”
It depends on how you’re planning to use your pumpkin:
- Need pumpkins for the kids to carve or paint?
- Looking for the perfect jack-o-lanterns?
- Baking pies?
- Making soup?
This is where talking to your grocer or going to a local farm can give you an advantage, because they can usually show you which pumpkins are best-suited for your needs; but if you’re going at it alone, here are a few tips to consider as you stroll through the pumpkin patch:
- Check the entire pumpkin for soft spots – any damage or softness on the body means the pumpkin won’t last long if you’re using it for decoration or carving.
- Make sure to check the stem – a dry, brittle stem indicates the pumpkin may not have gotten all the nutrients it needed while growing.
- Just like all melons, gourds, and squashes, the pumpkin should feel heavy for its size. More water, sugars, nutrients, and meat means the healthiest of pumpkins can mature inside your home for 1–3 months, achieving even sweeter and richer flavor!
- Pumpkins are super versatile – it can be chunked, roasted, and frozen and will last up to a year in the freezer (pumpkin pie on 4th of July, anyone?).
- And as always, your leftover produce doesn’t have to go in the garbage – old pumpkins make great livestock feed and compost.
There you have it! Pumpkin spice and everything nice!
Learn more about pumpkins, and grab a delicious pumpkin mac & cheese recipe with this Pick It! Try It! Like It! fact sheet.
Can’t get enough fruits and veggies? Be sure to check out Harvest of the Month, a downloadable educational program designed to make learning about fruits and veggies easy, tasty, and fun!