Pumpkin season is upon us. Autumn is prime for pumpkin eating, but particularly in November. In October, most people eye pumpkins in a dastardly way, figuring out the best way to plunge a knife into them and carve them up for jack-o'lanterns. But in November, pumpkins find an honored place at the table, especially on the 4th Thursday of the month. Pumpkins are not only an attractive, colorful, and tasty addition to a meal (any meal, not just Thanksgiving), but they are a healthful one, too.

pumpkins
NUTRIENTS

Beta-Carotene. Orange, red, and bright yellow vegetables contain an abundance of carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Pumpkins, being a robust, bright orange, are especially rich in beta-carotene. One-half cup of cooked pumpkin has more than 250% of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (U.S. RDA) of beta-carotene.

Studies have shown that a high intake of carotenoid-rich foods may prevent cancer, particularly of the stomach, colon, rectum, bladder, breast, mouth, esophagus, cervix, and lungs. It is believed that part of its effectiveness is because beta-carotene increases T-cells and antibody response. Beta-carotene keeps the immune system strong, aids in bone formation and growth, and promotes protein synthesis.

Vitamin A. Pumpkins are simply loaded with vitamin A (which the body converts from beta-carotene). Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes and skin and for fighting infections by keeping cell walls healthy and strong. One cup canned pumpkin contains 264 RE vitamin A.

Vitamin C. Pumpkin is a vitamin C-rich food. Vitamin C boosts immunity, antibodies, and white blood cell activity, and is important during times of stress (because stress inherently lowers the body's immunity). One cup canned pumpkin contains 12 mg vitamin C.

According to Jean Carper, author of Food—Your Miracle Medicine, squashes are shown to lower the risk of stomach cancer.

Magnesium. Pumpkins, as well as other squashes, are high in magnesium—approximately 300 mg. in one cup mashed pumpkin. An increase in magnesium has been shown to improve energy levels and help relieve depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, dizziness, and chronic headaches.

Potassium. Pumpkins are a rich source of potassium. Potassium helps—
• regulate water balance in the body.
• contract muscles.
• transmit nerve impulses.
• keep the heart and kidneys functioning properly.
• keep blood pressure under control, reducing the risk of hypertension.

A Johns Hopkins University study showed that potassium supplements lowered participants' high blood pressure by 4.4 points on their systolic and 2.5 points on their diastolic. One cup canned pumpkin contains 564 mg potassium.

Fiber. Pumpkin is a good source of fiber. Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar; protects against colon, rectum, pancreas, breast, and prostate cancers; and helps lower "bad" cholesterol. One half cup of pumpkin contains 3.4 grams of dietary fiber.

Strokes

Both caretenoid-rich and high-magnesium foods have been found to be helpful in recovery after a stroke. Potassium controls blood pressure, possibly preventing a stroke in the first place.

Also...Squash (of all types) is one of the first solids well tolerated by infants.

WOMEN AND SQUASHES

I cannot stress the importance of vitamin A- and beta-carotene-rich foods for women enough. Here are the benefits.

1. Breast cancer. High beta-carotene foods help fight breast cancer, which is the second biggest cancer in women next to lung cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reports that an estimates 33 to 50 percent of breast cancer could possibly be prevented by practicing healthy eating habits and lifestyle throughout life.
2. Menorrhagia (abnormally heavy menstruation). One cause of this is a vitamin A deficiency, which colorful squashes can alleviate.
3. Abnormal pap smears. Women who have had abnormal pap smears have shown to have low levels of beta-carotene and vitamin A (as well as vitamins E and C).
4. Premenstrual Syndrome. Vitamin A increases progesterone levels, and progesterone is believed to relieve PMS symptoms.
5. Vaginitis. Because of beta-carotene's and vitamin A's immunity-boosting, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, pumpkins help fight off some types of vaginitis.
6. Urinary Tract Infections. Vitamin A is helpful for infection control.
7. Osteoporosis. The phytochemicals in pumpkins help fight against this disease, which particularly affects older women and results in decreased bone mass.
8. Pregnancy. Pumpkins promote fertility, successful pregnancies, and lactation.

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Pumpkin seeds are not just a salty snack. Long since used in Mexican and Latin American cuisine, pumpkin seeds—or pepitas, as they are called in Spanish—are extremely healthful. The biggest news in pumpkin seeds is that they have been successful in helping men with prostate problems. But it does not stop there.
pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds also contain fatty acids called linoleic and linolenic acids, from which certain prostaglandins are derived. These prostaglandins aid in muscle relaxation. What this means for women is that eating pepitas may actually help relieve menstrual cramps. Series two prostaglandins—the kind derived from pepitas—have been shown to do exactly that.

Pepitas are high in zinc, which boosts the body's immune mechanisms, such as the thymus and T-cells, as well as antibodies. The phosphorus in pepitas make them a helpful post-stroke food. Pumpkin seeds have also been used in the treatment of intestinal worms.

Pumpkin seeds are a good sources of iron, potassium, and calcium, and contain B vitamins, magnesium, copper, iodine, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids.

Pepitas are a great source of protein (5 g in one ounce); in fact, they are more than 30 percent protein. Some people are concerned about their fat content. It is true that more than half (by weight) is fat, but more than 80 percent of that fat is polyunsaturated.

BUYING AND STORING PUMPKINS

When choosing pumpkins, look for firm ones with undamaged skin and that feel heavy for their size. It is important to select pumpkins that are mature. Do not pick pumpkins with sticky skin or a very green stem; these are indications of an immature pumpkin, which can be quite flavorless. The more brown flecks on the stem, the more mature the pumpkin is. Store pumpkins in a cool, dark place—not the refrigerator. Once cut, however, they should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.

For more information about pumpkins, visit these sites:
The Pumpkin Patch at http://www.backyardgardener.com/pumplink

There are many ways to have pumpkin. Unfortunately, too many people have not experienced it beyond the pumpkin pie. And if pumpkin pie is not made well—which is often the case—it can be quite insipid. So here are some recipes that do not require pie shells. And save the seeds. Just rinse them in a colander, removing any squash pulp, and roast them on a baking sheet (with or without salt) at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Spicy Pumpkin Butter

1/4 c Dark brown sugar, packed
2 tb Sugar
1/4 c Water
1/2 ts Allspice
1/4 ts Ginger
1/4 ts Cloves
1/4 ts Nutmeg
1/2 ts Cinnamon
1 1/2 c Pumpkin (canned puree or make your own)

spicy pumpkin butter

Add to whipped cream to garnish a Pumpkin Pie.
Combine the two sugars, water, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon in a 4-cup glass measure. Mix well on high 3 minutes; stir. Add pumpkin and mix well on high 5 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate. Keeps several weeks in refrigerator or can be frozen.
Yield: 2 cups Use as you would apple butter.

Russian Stuffed Pumpkin

Yield: 8 Servings

4 lb Pumpkin
1 1/2 c Long-grain rice
2 lg Tart cooking apples (like Granny Smith), peeled, cored and diced
1/2 c Golden raisins
1/2 c Dried sour cherries (available in specialty food stores)
8 tb (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tb Sugar or more to taste
3/4 ts Ground cinnamon
Salt to taste
1/4 c Hot water

Cut the stem end of the pumpkin as if you were about to carve a jack o'lantern. Set aside "lid". Remove insides of pumpkin and discard (or save to roast and munch on). Using a grapefruit knife or melon baller, scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin as much as you can without piercing the skin. Chop flesh and set aside.

In lg saucepan, bring 3 qts of salted water to boil and dump in the rice. Cook over high heat, covered until still a bit hard to the bite...about 15 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In large bowl, combine, pumpkin, partially cooked rice, raisins, dried sour cherries and melted butter. Season with sugar, salt and cinnamon. Spoon stuffing loosely into pumpkin, sprinkle with the hot water and put "lid" on tightly. Place on baking sheet and bake till pumpkin is tender to a point of a knife...about 2 hrs. Cut into wedges and serve.
Serves 8

Garbanzo Bean and Pumpkin Soup

1 pound or Sugar Pumpkin [or Butternut Squash or Acorn Squash, per original recipe]
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 large Onion finely diced
3 cups Vegetable Broth
1 pound Cooked Garbanzo Beans
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
Fresh Ground Black Pepper and Salt to taste
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
12 sprigs Fresh Cilantro minced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash in an oven-proof dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until tender, approximately 1 hour. Let cool, then peel and seed the squash, and scoop the pulp from the shell. Set the pulp aside.

Meanwhile in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6-8 minutes. Let cool.

In a blender or food processor, in batches if necessary, puree the squash, onion, broth, and half the garbanzo beans. Return the puree to the pan. Stir in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Heat the soup through and add the remaining whole garbanzo beans. Before serving, sprinkle with minced cilantro.