Monday, October 25, 2010

Meatless Monday: The Great Pumpkin

Just in time for Hallowe'en! Today's Meatless Monday topic is the pumpkin. Celebrated at this time of year for its potential to grow to a gargantuan size (as for the carbon footprint of this hobby, I'm not going to go there) and the ease with which it can be carved, the pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) has been a valuable source of nourishment for centuries. 

The pumpkin originated in Central America but is now grown on 6 continents. Pumpkins come in numerous varieties. Some are better for eating or growing large; others are better for carving. The Jack-o’-lantern in the photo was most likely carved from a Connecticut Field pumpkin. The History Channel site offers a great video called “All About the Pumpkin,” which packs a tremendous number of pumpkin facts into a very entertaining 1.5 minutes.

The Pilgrims were not familiar with the pumpkin when they landed on the shores of what is now Massachusetts in the 1600s. But they soon learned of the many ways the Native Americans put the pumpkin to good use including roasting of long strips of pumpkin on the open fire for eating, and drying strips of pumpkin for weaving into mats. The creative colonists went on to invent uses of their own: the origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, filled the insides with milk, spices and honey and then baked the pumpkin in hot ashes. They also found a way to turn it into beer, a tradition that continues in the brewing of seasonal ale to this day. Anyone who reads even one of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels will learn that pumpkins are grown in Botswana and turned into stew.

Pumpkins are a nutritious food, low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 564 mg of potassium, an astounding 2650 IU of Vitamin A, and a mere 49 calories.

This time of year newly-harvested pumpkins are readily available at farmers markets, farm stands, and supermarkets. With Thanksgiving on the way, store shelves are well stocked with cans of pumpkin that have been cooked and puréed to make life easier when you have to whip up a pumpkin pie on the fly.

These cans of pumpkin are good for lots more than pie. My advice is to pick up a few before they disappear. One of my favorite uses for pumpkin purée is in a cornbread recipe I have adapted from a muffin recipe that appears in a spiral-bound cookbook I purchased on a sale rack years ago. The Muffin Cookbook: Muffins for All Occasions was published as a way to promote use of commercial name-brand products.  

Tex-Mex Pumpkin Corn Muffins (Cornbread)

1 cup yellow organic cornmeal
1 cup unbleached organic flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (or more) or your favorite chili powder
2 eggs*
1 cup canned organic pumpkin (NOT pie filling) 
[Note: Feel free to cook and prepare your own.]
1 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons organic canola oil
1 4 oz can chopped green chili peppers (mild) or one small, fresh chili chopped
3 oz (or more to taste; I use at least 4 oz) of extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

In large bowl combine dry ingredients. In small bowl beat eggs; mix in pumpkin, milk, oil, chopped chili peppers. Add wet ingredients to dry; combine with rubber scraper just until moistened. Turn into an oiled 10” cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake in 425° oven for 20-25 minutes —just until cake tester comes out dry. If you decide to bake as muffins, temperature should be lowered to 400°, time approximately the same, but check on the early side. Makes around 18 muffins. (I have always baked in the skillet.)

* Note: Although I have purchased egg substitute, I have not yet tried it with this recipe.

This cornbread is a wonderful accompaniment to pea soup or curried kale. Leftovers (if there are any) taste great after being lightly toasted in a toaster oven and then spread win a little grape jam.

I can’t resist closing with this bit of Jack-o’-lantern trivia: This tradition was brought to the United States by the Irish. The myth behind the Jack-o’-lantern involves a stingy man named Jack who makes a deal with the devil and finds himself wandering forever after he dies, unable to gain admittance to either Heaven or Hell. Legend has it that the devil tossed Jack an ember from Hell to light his way. Jack placed the ember in a carved out turnip which he carried with him as he roamed the earth. People in the British Isles began carving various root vegetables to make their own “Jack-o’-lanterns” to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away. The Irish used turnips (and sometimes potatoes). Upon arriving in the US, they discovered the readily available, larger, and easy to carve pumpkin. “Turnip Jack” soon became history and the pumpkin Jack-o’-lantern became part of American culture. 

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.


  1. Read this this morning just before going to the store, so bought the ingredients I didn't have. The muffins are in the oven now. :-)

    In appreciation, here are two of my Fall pumpkin standbys:
    Makes 8 to 10 servings

    Crumb Crust:
    1 1/2 cups (5 oz) total half ground gingersnaps half ground vanilla wafers.
    5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 9-inch springform pan. Fill with cheesecake right away or chill up to 2 hours.

    3 (8-ounces) packages cream cheese, softened
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
    5 large eggs
    2 teaspoon vanilla
    2 large egg yolks
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin

    Preheat oven to 350°F.
    Beat together cream cheese, sugar, and flour with an electric mixer until smooth, then add whole eggs, 1 at a time, finally the vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down the bowl between additions. Transfer half the filling to another bowl and beat yolks, spices, and pumpkin into remaining filling until smooth.

    Put the springform pan with crust on a baking sheet. Pour half of pumpkin filling into crust, then half of plain. Repeat procedure with remaining fillings (springform pan will be completely full), drizzling the plain over the top so that some of pumpkin filling is still visible.

    Gently slide a thin knife or swirl a small spoon once through the batter in a figure-eight pattern without touching crust.

    Transfer the baking sheet with the springform on it to an oven rack placed in the middle of the oven. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 300°F and bake 1 hour & 40 minutes (do not open the oven). Turn the oven off, leave the door open a crack & allow the cheesecake to sit in the oven for another 20 minutes.

    The center of the cake might be slightly soft once you remove it from the oven. Don't worry. Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen it and cool completely in the springform pan on a rack. Chill, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    You can garnish with toasted whole pecans or whole pralined pecans before serving. Or, to beguile the kiddies or the kiddie in you, use Halloween candies like candy corn & candy pumpkins.

    The cheesecake keeps, lightly covered in the fridge, for 1 week.

  2. Here's the second recipe. Both together gagged the comments software :-/

    Makes 6-8 servings

    Apples (ingredients):
    3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    6 cups diced peeled cored Granny Smith apples (about 6 large)
    5 Tablespoons sugar
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

    Cake (ingredients):
    1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    1 cup (firmly packed) golden brown sugar
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 Tablespoons oatmeal
    1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (Optional)
    3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
    1/3 cup sour cream
    2 Tablespoons sugar
    4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 large eggs

    Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples; sauté until apples begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and cinnamon. Continue to sauté until the apples are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes more. Cool.

    Preheat oven to 350°F.
    Butter a 9-inch springform pan.

    Combine flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt in large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Reserve 2/3 cup of the mixture, then add oatmeal & optional nuts . Set this aside for the topping.

    Beat the pumpkin, sour cream, 2 Tablespoons sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and baking soda then add to the remaining flour mixture, scraping down the bowl and beating until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Transfer the batter to the springform pan. Scatter the apples evenly over the top. Sprinkle reserved topping over the apples.

    Place the springform pan on a baking sheet, then bake the cake in the middle of the oven until the topping is golden brown and a tester inserted into center comes out clean- about 1 hour 10 minutes.

    Cool the cake in the springform pan on a rack 20 minutes. Run a knife around the side to loosen the cake. Release the cake. Transfer it to a platter. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

    Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

  3. Thanks for these recipes. I will try one of these for the holidays. They sound great. How did the cornbread turn out?

  4. To quote Rachel Ray { something I try not to do ;-) }-- Yummmo-o-o-o!
    I put the batter in my cast iron skillet instead of doing individual muffins. Good thing since I ate 3/4 of the cornbread for supper, along with a salad of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, diced sweet onion, dried cranberries, kalamata olives, crumbled bleu cheese & chopped, leftover grilled chicken breast.

    Just a suggestion about the recipes I posted. You might want to do a test run before the holidays to see if you like the spices as listed. Some other friends I have shared these with reduced the spices. To each his own; I happen to like the traditional pumpkin pie spices quite a bit, so no problem for me. Also, cheesecake can vary according to the oven, so that would definitely benefit from a test run.

  5. Glad to hear the cornbread turned out so well. And thanks for the tip about trying the recipes ahead of time. A good excuse to have some dessert!