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Mitzi Parker: Eat your pumpkin!

Did you realize that pumpkins can do double duty? Use them for decoration as Jack-O’-Lanterns for Halloween or your Thanksgiving centerpiece and then serve them up for dinner! Instead of carving your pumpkin this fall, use non-toxic paint or markers to decorate faces, then preserve the flesh to add fiber and valuable nutrients to your diet year round. Pumpkins provide a powerhouse of good nutrition and savory flavor for meals and snacks. Here is how to safely preserve pumpkin past harvest time.
Freezing is the easiest way to preserve pumpkin and it provides the best quality product. Select full-colored mature pumpkins with a good texture. Scrub outside with a produce brush under running water. Cut into cooking-sized sections and remove the seeds to be dried or roasted later. Cook until soft in boiling water, in steam, in a pressure cooker or an oven. Remove pulp from rind and mash. To cool, place pan in cold water and stir occasionally. Pack into rigid containers leaving one-half inch and freeze.
Drying and roasting the pumpkin seeds are two different processes. To dry, carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging fibrous pumpkin tissue. Pumpkin seeds can be dried in a dehydrator at 115-120 degrees F. for one to two hours or in an oven on warm for three to four hours. Stir them frequently to avoid scorching. To roast, take dried pumpkin seeds, toss with oil and /or salt and roast in a preheated oven at 250 degrees F. for 10 to 15 minutes.
Home canning pumpkin butter or mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash is NOT recommended. Only pressure canning methods are recommended for canning “cubed” pumpkin. Select pumpkins with a hard rind and stringless, mature pulp. They should be ideal for cooking fresh. Small pumpkins (sugar or pie) make better products. Wash pumpkin and remove seeds. Cut into 1 inch slices and peel. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil two minutes. Do not mash or puree! Pack hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Fill jar to 1-inch from top with boiling hot cooking liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and process in dial gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a weighted gauge pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure. Pints are processed for 55 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes.
Think safety when planning to preserve pumpkin. Pumpkin is a low-acid vegetable and requires special attention when preserving for later use. Even though pumpkin butters and preserves are popular, they cannot be safely canned for room temperature storage. Choose pumpkins with the idea that with proper preserving they can last beyond the harvest decorating season to provide a source of fiber and valuable nutrients for your diet.

Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 924-4476.