Pumpkins may be synonymous with Halloween, but these versatile gourds can be used for more than just carving. While pumpkins do make for a lovely pie, they can also be incorporated into many meals. Cook a pumpkin using one of several different methods, including boiling, steaming, baking or microwaving. All methods are simple and produce tender, flavorful pumpkins. Enlist your children's help in pulling out the pumpkin's "guts." Once the pumpkin is cooked, use a large spoon to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the shell. Top cooked pumpkin with butter and brown sugar, or puree it for use in pies or baked dishes. These orange-colored vegetables can double as a food staple, so next time pumpkin season rolls around, think outside the Halloween box, and stock your kitchen with different-sized pumpkins.
Choose small to medium pumpkins for cooking, as smaller pumpkins are sweet and tender and the texture is firm. Save large pumpkins for carving jack o'lanterns, as larger pumpkins are often stringy, watery and less flavorful. Although the shape of the pumpkin is unimportant, a good quality pumpkin is solid and heavy with no soft spots or bruises. A pumpkin with a 1- to 2-inch length of stem keeps better than a pumpkin with no stem.
Boiling or steaming is beneficial if you're in a hurry, as cooking a pumpkin in this manner takes only eight to 12 minutes. To boil a pumpkin, cut it into large chunks measuring about 4 to 6 inches across, then scrape out the fiber and seeds. Simmer the chunks in a large, heavy pot with a small amount of water until you can easily poke the chunks with a fork. Don't use too much water, as you need just enough to keep the pumpkin from sticking to the pot. Steaming is a nearly identical process, except the pumpkin is placed in a steamer basket above the simmering water.
Baking is an effective cooking technique, as no water is needed and nutrients are retained. While baking a pumpkin is easy, it is the slowest cooking method, requiring as long as an hour. To bake a pumpkin, cut the pumpkin in half or in quarters, then scrape out the seeds and pulp. Arrange the pieces, cut side down, in an oiled baking pan. Cook until the pumpkin is tender.
The microwave oven is convenient if you're cooking a small pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin into chunks that fit in a microwaveable plate or bowl, then remove the seeds and pulp. Put the chunks in the plate with the cut side down and add 1 to 2 inches of water. Microwave the pumpkin pieces for about 15 minutes. If the pumpkin isn't done, cook in increments of 1 to 2 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
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