Perfect Pumpkins & Savory Squash

Eating seasonally brings good health. These fall favorites are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and iron.

| Fall 2016

Basket of squash

When buying squash at a farmers market, look for fruits with a dried stem. This indicates the squash was left on the vine longer and will be especially sweet.

Photo by iStock/Stieglitz

As autumn descends, vibrant oranges, reds, and golds dapple the countryside, especially at local farmstands and urban markets, where richly hued pumpkins and squash pile high in assorted shapes and sizes. You can enjoy these quintessential fall fruits in a variety of nutritious soups, appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.

For centuries, pumpkins and squash have been prized for their versatility and durability. Indigenous to the Americas, squash gets its name from the Native American word askutasquash. The Chinese call the pumpkin “Emperor of the Garden” and consider it the symbol of fruitfulness. Its name derives from the Greek word pepon, meaning “cooked by the sun.” Aptly named, pumpkins and winter squash are only eaten when fully mature, whereas summer squash such as zucchini and yellow squash are best picked young and tender.

Pumpkin Power

While you enjoy fall’s harvest, you may also be protecting yourself against cancer and heart disease. Squash and pumpkins are packed with the powerful carotenoid and antioxidant beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Responsible for giving pumpkins and squash their brilliant orange hues, beta carotene has been found to boost immune function and help prevent cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration, or deterioration of the retina. Pumpkins and squash are also good sources of vitamin C, riboflavin, and iron. Plus, they’re low in calories, high in fiber, and fat- and cholesterol-free.

Pumpkin seeds and their oil have been used in folk medicine to heal wounds and scars and to treat prostate disorders. Studies also show that pumpkin seeds contain protease inhibitors and free-radical fighters that may help heal intestinal viruses, reproductive disorders, and arthritis.

Squash Stats

There are more than 40 types of squash, including pumpkins. Some of the most popular squashes include butternut, delicata, hubbard, and turban cultivars, along with acorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin.

Pumpkins that are ideal for cooking are called “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins. Most pumpkins can be used interchangeably in cooking, although beefy jack-o’-lantern types are grown mainly for decoration, as their flesh may become watery with cooking.

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