If you adore everything pumpkin, it’s time to celebrate. October 26 is National Pumpkin Day.
Grown throughout the U.S., pumpkins are one of the most famous types of winter squash. They’re a proud member of the gourd family, which also includes cucumbers and melons. They range in size from staggeringly huge (the biggest ones weigh in at over one ton) to tiny enough to hang on an indoor Halloween tree.
Many traditional holiday foods were “imported” from Europe, but pumpkin is an American original. It probably first grew in Central America and then made its way north to what is now the U.S. Some Native Americans cooked pumpkin by roasting it over a fire; European settlers soon learned to enjoy it too. There are pumpkin recipes dating all the way back to the 1600s.
Pumpkin’s side-gig as a jack-o’-lantern began by accident. People in Ireland originally made jack-o’-lanterns from potatoes or even turnips. The English used beets. But settlers in the U.S. didn’t always have access to those crops, so they improvised by using pumpkins instead. If you’ve ever tried carving a turnip, you’ll agree that pumpkins are far better qualified for the job.
Besides being a fun, universal autumn decoration, pumpkins also pack a powerful nutritional punch. They’re very high in beta-carotene which your body converts to immune-strengthening vitamin A. They also deliver fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, and several key minerals. Best of all, they’re low in calories and carbs.
Pumpkin seeds are good for you, too. They’re rich in healthy fats, magnesium, and zinc. A mild diuretic, they may even help reduce the symptoms of diabetes and overactive bladder.
Unfortunately, some of our favorite pumpkin treats also contain loads of sugar, fat, or sodium. But there are plenty of healthful ways to enjoy pumpkin. You can use it in almost any recipe that calls for winter squash. It’s delicious in soup or oven-roasted along with other veggies like carrots, onions, and red bell pepper. Pre-cooked, pureed pumpkin makes a great addition to smoothies, yogurt, or baked goods.
Pumpkin puree can be frozen for several months. If you’re only going to use a little at a time, freeze it in ice cube trays or muffin tins, then transfer it to a storage bag once it’s frozen solid.
If you simply can’t resist an occasional high-calorie pumpkin spice muffin or latte, go ahead and savor it. Most pumpkin spice blends contain a mix of nutrient-rich spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Besides being good for you, the flavors are soul-soothing and say “fall is here” like nothing else can.
And since one day to celebrate pumpkins just isn’t enough, you’ve got plenty of other opportunities. Mark next year’s calendar for National Pumpkin Spice Day on October 1, Pumpkin Cheesecake Day on October 22, and the nationally famous Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio, during the third week of October. For this year, we can still look forward to National Pumpkin Pie Day on December 25.
Whether you enjoy pumpkins for eating, decorating, or both, today is your day to indulge. Happy fall!
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