Four things you should know about pumpkins

pumpkins.jpgLast weekend I drove upstate and visited a few towns along the Hudson. One of the best parts was happening upon the farmer's markets, where October's favorite fruit, the pumpkin, was in top form...
Growing up in Texas, I got most of my pumpkin 411 from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," so I never knew there were so many gourd varieties! Here, a cheat sheet on pumpkin basics: different varities, how to choose the right one for your purposes, plus a few recipes. Get carvin' and cookin'!

Major Varieties

There are dozens of varieties (fairytale, cotton candy, lumina), but here are the major types:

Common (or Standard) Orange: These are the best for carving because their walls are thin; they're round (or oblong); as far as taste, they're mild, almost bland.

Sweet (or Pie): A bit smaller than Common Orange, shape is flatter and more like a sphere. They're the ones you want to cook because their flavor is stronger and sweeter.

White: These are mostly used as decoration, but can be eaten as well. They have a milder flavor than the orange variety.

Miniature (or Baby): You can bake them, but they're mostly used for decoration.

See our tips: Seven superfoods of fall!

Go for heavy pumpkins with smooth skin, and avoid those with soft spots. You also want one with one to two inches of stem (those with less can decay faster).

To prep your pumpkin for recipes, preheat oven to 375 degrees; cut off the stem, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, scoop out the membranes and seeds (rinse and save seeds if you'd like), then bake your pumpkin (cut side down) on a baking sheet that's been lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake for about an hour (longer for large pumpkins), or until a knife easily pierces through the skin.
(The Speedy Way: Microwave it, 7 minutes per pound, on high.)

Pumpkins are an amazing source of beta-carotene (converted to Vitamin A in your body) and potassium. They even offer some calcium and folate! If a recipe calls for canned pumpkin and you only have a full grown gourd, know this: One 16-oz can equals 2 cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin, and you can get about 4 cups from a medium sized pumpkin. Try one of these yummy dishes: