Pumpkin soup appears on café menus as the weather turns cooler. As a vegetable, it is almost an Aussie icon: it is very much a part of a traditional ‘baked dinner’ along with meat, potatoes and peas; and pumpkin scones (the light and fluffy British-style ones) are a Down-under classic whose golden colour is like sunshine. In North America, everybody knows about the importance of pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns for Halloween.
Botanically speaking pumpkins are berries, as are grapes, avocados, tomatoes and persimmons because they are each a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary – go figure! But all you need to know is they are easy to grow, provided they get enough water and it isn’t too cold. I recently visited a friend whose pumpkins had doubled in size in just one week after some good drenching rain. I had a pumpkin vine pop up among my gardenias after I spread some compost on the garden that must have contained seeds. I just left it and reaped the rewards.
Pumpkins are a marvel for cooks because they lend themselves to sweet or savoury dishes. On the sweet side the most famous recipe is probably pumpkin pie (a pleasure to say as well as to eat) enjoyed around Thanksgiving in North America. Pumpkin pie is usually made with canned pumpkin, but a different variety than the one scooped out to make Halloween lanterns. And Middle Eastern and Indian halwa (sweetmeat) made with pumpkin is delightful. However in my humble view pumpkins really sing when their sweetness is balanced with meat or legumes in hearty slow-cooked meals like soups, stews, curries and tagines. They also partner beautifully with spices including the classic nutmeg, and gorgeous Middle Eastern flavours as shown in Anneka’s recipe.
You can even eat the seeds. Green-coloured pumpkin seed kernels are delicious in trail mixes, muesli and salads. You can buy pumpkin seed kernels or make your own with the innards of your next whole pumpkin. Simple wash and dry them, coat lightly with oil and a little salt, and bake in a slow oven for around 15–20 minutes. Allow to cool and then crack between your teeth and prise out the kernel. They’re the perfect keep-your-hands-busy, high-effort-so-you-don’t-overeat kind of snack food.
Pumpkins are nutritious as well as delicious. Their rich golden colour comes from high levels of beta-carotene, similar to carrots. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, and is also converted to vitamin A by the body. Pumpkin also contains useful amounts of fibre, vitamins C, E and riboflavin.
You may have heard of pumpkin described as a starchy vegetable, however it’s not really, it’s more watery. In fact, its total carbohydrate content (sugars and starch) is only 6–8% (baked) compared to 17% (mostly starch) in baked potato, so it isn’t going to have much effect on your blood glucose levels if eaten in sensible amounts. Butternut pumpkin (winter squash) does have a low GI value (51) and makes a great alternative to potato on the dinner plate. It is also delicious mashed with potato.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
I’d suggest Peter got it all wrong: he should have cooked the pumpkin for his wife and she would have stuck around voluntarily.
Try Nicole’s pumpkin soup recipe here