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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Pumpkins Rule Fall

I freely admit that I am a pumpkin spice girl. I love pumpkin anything and pumpkin spice everything! Pumpkins are the round, orange, orange shaded or white type of Winter squash. And pumpkins are in the melon and cucumber family. If you really take a minute to smell a pumpkin that has just been cut, with your eyes closed, you will absolutely smell the family resemblance. And like it’s family members, pumpkins, and all Winter squash, are highly nutritious. Their gorgeous orange flesh tells you that too. Most of a pumpkin’s health benefits come from its micronutrient content and the fact that it’s a fiber-filled, low-carb fruit. While there aren’t many studies on pumpkin specifically, it is high in several nutrients that have established health benefits.” says

You might be asking yourself, what are the spices in the pumpkin pie spice blend that make it so warming and inviting? Glad you asked! They are, in this order of quantity per batch - most to least: cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg - and sometimes allspice. I use allspice when I make my own blend. And what is the difference between this blend and the apple pie spice blend, because I know that was your next question? The apple pie spice blend contains only: cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

I hope you’ll also take the time to roast your Winter squash seeds as well. Of course, not all seeds are equally delicious. I am not a fan of acorn squash seeds. But any of the pumpkin and butternut seeds are tasty. Here is my biggest tip though; do NOT rinse the seeds before baking! Those seeds have a ton of flavor and residual antioxidants all over them from the orange goo. You are wasting time, flavor and nutrition if you rinse. Just place your unrinsed seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and, while they are still wet with goo, lightly sprinkle them with salt. I roast mine at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes - it depends on how dark and crispy you like them. If you want to get funky with it and add extra spices, I recommend adding them once the seeds come out of the oven so the spices don’t burn during roasting. And the issue then is having the spices stick to the seeds. Very lightly spray them with grape seed or olive oil and sprinkle on your spices as soon as they come out of the oven. The residual heat will toast the spices just enough.

Pumpkins grow all over the world and are present in nearly every cuisine on the planet. So there’s not too much you can’t do with a pumpkin in the kitchen. In Haiti, Soup Joumou is a dish of celebration for Haitian Independence Day (liberation from France) on January 1st. It’s made with cuts of meat on the bone and simmered for many hours until the pumpkin has dissolved and the meat is very tender. In Brazil, they serve a traditional dish of pumpkin with shrimp. It’s a very creamy (cream, cream cheese, and coconut cream) shrimp and rice dish with tomatoes served inside a whole pumpkin. In Thailand, curry is a popular way to serve pumpkin. And in Japan, steamed pumpkin is preferred.

I make my own pumpkin puree, because there is nothing like that fresh pumpkin flavor. Canned pumpkin’s flavor is so muted and dull in comparison. I cut my pumpkin or Winter squash in half (or quarters, depending on the size), very lightly run a little grape seed oil on the cut side and place it cute side down on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree oven until soft (easily pierced with a fork), about 30 to 45+ minutes, depending on the size of the squash. Then with a spoon, I scoop out the flesh and puree it with a little water, using a blender. I store the puree in ball jars in the refrigerator. I love having jars of pumpkin puree in my refrigerator at all times this time of year, ready for cake, bread, rolls, pie, soup, sauce, and smoothies.

When I’m using butternuts for cooking, I generally don’t peel them - you know me and peeling - unless the skin is particularly thick or blemished, especially when making pureed soup. The skin of a butternut is generally good to eat - extra fiber. But if you are going to peel it, please save the peels for making your own vegetable broth - dump all of your veg scraps in your biggest pot with water, salt, pepper and any herbs you like, boil for a good 2 hours and strain, voila! Free broth!

We all have our favorite pumpkin recipes, I’m sure. As I’ve said, I like pumpkin anything: pie, curry, soup, cake, muffins, scones, a whole stuffed pumpkin, custard, bread, pumpkin pasta sauce, as a filling for ravioli, gratin, roasted with potatoes, pumpkin butter, and in smoothies with bananas and coconut milk, and yes, a spiced latte. I recently made a Pumpkin Pie Smoothie, following the recipe from Anthony William whose books I frequently quote nutrition information from (author of Life Changing Foods, Cleanse To Heal, Liver Rescue and more). It was so delicious! But how could it not be, it had all of my favorite ingredients. The recipe calls for frozen bananas, which I did not have. So I added some ice cubes and I also mixed coconut water and coconut milk together to yield a total of 1 cup. And yes, you do need 1 whole teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. I also substituted date syrup (because that is what I had) for the 1 whole date. But you could use pure maple syrup instead to give the smoothie the right amount of sweetness for you. Put all of these ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serves 2:

2 bananas cut into chunks and frozen, 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, 1 Medjool date, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + more for topping, 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk.

For more yummy pumpkin ideas, enjoy this collection of Pumpkin Recipes from Saveur Magazine.

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