June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Green scene: sugar pumpkin

Special to The Gazette

Plant: Sugar pumpkin

Common name: Pie pumpkin, field pumpkin

Latin name: Cucurbita pepo

Description: Sugary sweet and deep orange in color, the sugar pumpkins are not like every other pumpkin. Sugar pumpkins tend to be a bit smaller in size. They are softer, too. But though they are smooth and beautiful, sugar pumpkins grow on prickly long vines. As they are a winter squash, the leaves are similar to other squash: pale to medium green, large and heart-shaped. Large single flower petals can be pinkish to orange.
Pick pumpkins before frosts arrive, because the plants are tender annuals. Sugar pumpkins contain lots of vitamin A, rich amounts of vitamin C, fiber and potassium plus good amounts of omega 3 fatty acids (seeds), folate and many more nutrients.

Origin: Native to the Americas, pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family.

Tips: Buy pumpkins with smooth, blemish-free, deep orange, plump skins. Feel for heavy weight and firmness not squishy or spongy skin. Store in a cool, dry area.

Varieties: Choose Cucurbita pepo to grow in a vegetable garden for smaller and tasty pumpkins. Pumpkin types come as heirlooms or hybrids and grow in miniatures or bigger, up to about twenty pounds. Grow Cucurbita maxima for giant, prize-winning pumpkins.

How to use: A sugar pumpkin is best to eat. Whether you grow them in a garden or buy them at your local market, the sugar pumpkin is a delight to the eyes. And when they are cut open, the deep orange color suggests the sweetness is great in desserts like pumpkin pie, muffins or cake, but also delicious when roasted, baked or stirfried.

Once the pumpkin content is scraped out, get creative and use the shell to hold pumpkin soup or other goodies. Pumpkin shells also make beautiful pumpkin planters for the front porch. Of course, drawing, painting or carving pumpkins can offer activities to celebrate the autumn harvest.

Roast pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet for about 20 minutes; keep oven at a low, 165F. to retain benefits of their omega 3-fatty acids (high temps will make oil unhealthy for the body).