Extend your enjoyment of nutritious pumpkins

October 31, 2020

Pumpkin is not just for dessert. Consider using this low-calorie, flavorful vegetable, botanically classified as a fruit, in any of the courses of your fall or holiday meals.

The beta carotene that gives pumpkin its orange color is an important antioxidant. Increasing the beta carotenes in your diet can reduce the risk of developing some cancers and provide protection against heart disease.

Don’t throw the seeds in the compost pile; instead, roast them and enjoy the anti-inflammatory benefits of this snack. Remove the pulp by rinsing the seeds in cold water. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet treated with a nonstick cooking oil and salt lightly. Bake at 325° for 25 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

Harvest pumpkins when the fruit is fully colored, and the rind has lost its shine and become hard. The curly tendrils near the pumpkin will turn brown and die when the fruit is fully ripe. Use pruning shears to cut the stem and avoid damage to the plant and your harvest. Leaving several inches of the pumpkin’s stem intact increases its storage life. Look for blemish-free fruit with intact stems when buying pumpkins from the grocery store or farmers market.

Always harvest pumpkins before the first frost, or cover plantings with floating row covers, old sheets or blankets when frost is in the forecast. Protecting plants from the first few frosty nights can keep them growing until the remaining frost-free days of the season are back in the forecast.

Only store pumpkins that are free of soft spots, cuts and other damage that can lead to decay. Cleaning them before storing can help extend their shelf life. Wipe them down with a dilute solution of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Allow them to dry thoroughly before placing them in storage. Washing the fruit removes bacteria and fungal spores that can contribute to decay.

Store pumpkins in a cool, dark, dry, location between 50 and 60 degrees for storage. Place them in a single layer on cardboard, crates or wooden shelves. Avoid storing them directly on a concrete floor, and check them regularly for rot and soft spots. Remove any that show signs of rot and add them to the compost pile. Pumpkins that are stored properly can last for several months.

Remember to take time this season to enjoy the harvest and flavor as you cook up some tasty, nutritious pumpkin dishes this fall.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated “Melinda’s Garden Moment” TV & radio program. To learn more, go to

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