Food is the most conventional form of medicine…
It used to be regarded as both nourishment and treatment, and so it is with the magnificent pumpkin and its seeds. Pumpkins belong to the gourd family which includes the marrow, cucumber and squash. They were one of the crops first cultivated by Native American Indians who liked to eat pumpkin pieces after roasting them over open fires.
The Pilgrims learned the value of pumpkins from the Indians and created pumpkin soup, pumpkin beer and pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are incredibly versatile, easy to digest and the nutty-tasting flesh is a useful source of vitamin E and beta-carotene. They also contain calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Europeans were introduced to pumpkins when explorers returned from the New World with their new seeds.
The name “squash” comes from a tribal Indian word “askutasquash” meaning “something eaten raw”. Nothing went to waste: they were consumed uncooked, or baked in hot ashes and eaten with honey or maple syrup; the seeds were toasted or ground into a paste; and the hard outer rinds were used as bowls and storage jars.
Popular modern varieties apart from pumpkin include butternut, acorn, kabocha and spaghetti squash. They make cheap and nourishing additions to a meal and can be kept through the winter months without spoiling – their thick, hard skins protect flavour and texture. Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sun, but not in plastic bags, as this will encourage them to rot.
Butternut is one of the most popular squash and the longer it is stored, the sweeter it tastes. Pear shaped, with a deep orange-coloured flesh, butternut has a mild, nutty flavour and is an excellent source of alpha- and beta-carotene, as well as many other vitamins and minerals, helping to boost our beleaguered immune systems over the winter months.
Technically a squash is a fruit, but is frequently treated like a vegetable. You can consume it in many different ways, an all-time favourite is pumpkin pie (butternut squash or acorn can also be used and frozen if you have left overs). Baking squash is easy, preserves its nutrients and intensifies its flavours.
Like the Native American Indians, you can also eat your squash raw by using a cheese grater and mixing it into a salad. If you prefer squash cooked, simply cut one into chunks, peel off the rind with a sharp knife, steam and mash with a little butter. Or add to pancake batter, stews, soups and curries. Squash adds moisture, colour and sweetness to breads, pies and cakes. When cooked and pureed, it is a delicious, nutritious food for young children.
You can buy pumpkins and winter squashes from farms or farmer’s markets in the autumn. Store them in a cool dry dark place (shed/garage/loft) on cloth, straw or cardboard. Ensure they are placed in a well-ventilated position at a temperature under 15°C (60°F) and no colder than 10°C (50°F). Most pumpkin varieties will store for at least 3 months.
(From “49 Ways to Eat Yourself Well”, Martina Watts, published by Step Beach Press)