Plant your own patch and incorporate nutritious, colorful pumpkin into hearty dishes.
This excerpt from The Pumpkin Cookbook is used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Pumpkins (Cucurbita spp.) grow in all climates across the United States. In fact, they’re found on every continent except Antarctica. They’ve long been prized for their nutrition, adaptability, and staying power. Their sturdy outer skin allows them to be stored in a cool place for months. Native to North America, pumpkins have been cultivated for about 9,000 years and have been a mainstay of indigenous peoples’ diets. Pumpkin offers protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and large amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). It’s high in fiber and low in calories. For sustenance, pumpkin is hard to beat.
Because pumpkin has been around for so long, and because it’s found in cuisines across the globe, it unsurprisingly shows up in appetizers, soups, breads, desserts, salads, and savory dishes of all kinds. It offers much more than the annual slice of pie at Thanksgiving. The mild, slightly sweet flavor complements numerous ingredients. I’ve experimented with adding pumpkin to my old favorite recipes, thinking up new combinations, and adapting ideas from other cultures. In some dishes, the pumpkin flavor might be too subtle to detect when used with strong, savory ingredients, but it always adds lovely color, valuable nutrition, and smooth texture.
Pie pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) are small with thick flesh and few strings. They’re good for shorter seasons because fruits continue to ripen as they cure. Pie pumpkins are the best cooking pumpkins.
Moschata pumpkins (C. moschata) are flattened, ribbed pumpkins with smooth skin and are resistant to squash vine borers. The delicious orange flesh resembles that of closely related butternut squash.
Oilseed pumpkins (C. pepo var. styriaca) are grown for their nutritious, hulless seeds, which can be eaten like nuts or pressed to extract their healthful oil.
Sow pumpkin seeds directly into prepared beds or hills in late spring, after your last frost. Or, try what many gardeners in cool climates do, and set out 3-week-old seedlings in late spring. In Zone 6 and warmer, you can delay planting pumpkins until early summer to use space vacated by spring crops, and use container-grown seedlings to get summer-planted pumpkins growing on time. Stop planting pumpkins 14 weeks before your first fall frost.
Choose a sunny site with fertile, well-drained soil and a pH level between 5.8 and 6.8. Cucurbita moschata pumpkins need little pest protection, so many gardeners grow them in an old compost pile that includes composted manure. Other types of pumpkins benefit from the pest protection of floating row covers for at least six weeks after planting, in which case it's most practical to start them in a row, spacing plants 3 feet apart (large-fruited pumpkin cultivars may need more room). As you prepare planting holes, mix in a 2-inch layer of mature compost and a light application of a balanced organic fertilizer. Water well. Plant two seeds (or one seedling) in each prepared hole. Install protective row covers over your pumpkins immediately after you plant them. Expect pumpkin vines to run at least 8 feet.
Several insect pests, including squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles, may challenge pumpkins.
To prevent early-season problems, cover plants with row covers held aloft with stakes, hoops, or fencing-wire cages until the plants begin to bloom. Begin handpicking squash bugs as soon as you remove the covers.
Pumpkins’ ripening period is also powdery mildew season. To combat powdery mildew, locate pumpkins as far away as possible from summer squash, and avoid crowding the plants. A spray made from 1 part milk and 6 parts water can suppress powdery mildew if applied every two weeks starting when the fruits begin to swell. Stylet oil (a highly refined white mineral oil) can also help prevent powdery mildew when consistently applied.
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