Farm Progress

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Making your own pumpkin puree doesn’t have to be hard — and it may be far better for you.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

November 14, 2018

3 Min Read

Did you know that Illinois is the leading state in pumpkin production? More than 90% of processing pumpkins produced in the U.S. are grown and processed in Illinois. Besides seemingly endless fields of corn and soybeans, our Illinois farmers are great at growing pie pumpkins, which are processed into canned pumpkin puree.

Pumpkins are even grown at the campus of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The pumpkins are grown for research and then processed by food scientists in a large-scale processing plant in the newly opened Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building.

“We can use some of the processed pumpkin in the Spice Box [cafe in Bevier Hall] in various recipes, including pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins,” says Jill Craft, a clinical assistant professor at the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “We do the same thing with tomatoes that are grown and processed — and use those in recipes calling for tomato sauce or pizza sauce. We also use wheat that has been grown and milled, and we make pizza dough and muffins. The wheat grown in Illinois is higher in protein because it’s a soft winter wheat.”

Studies are being done on all products grown and processed at the school — even black currants, which one of Craft’s students is trying to use in a fruit leather.

Many of the products are used throughout the university’s dining services. And one of the favorites seems to be pumpkin, especially during the holidays.

The pumpkin spice mixture is actually a combination of common spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves. Sometimes, it doesn’t even include pumpkin.

What’s in it for you?
The pumpkin, which is in the squash family, is a very nutritious vegetable, high in vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. It has no fat or sodium. The vitamin A comes from beta carotene. We need vitamin A for better eyesight, to ward off germs, and for our reproductive system to work the way it should. It also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs stay healthy.

In addition to beta carotene, pumpkins offer vitamin C, vitamin E, iron and folate — all of which strengthen the immune system. Pumpkin’s rich orange color is also a sign it’s packed with potassium, which is crucial for lowering blood pressure.

Unsalted pumpkin seeds are full of minerals and plant sterols that raise HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” kind). Pumpkins are also high in fiber and low in calories. That means they make you feel full without adding to your overall food intake for the day.

With all the goodness pumpkins offer, surely an extra-large pumpkin spice latte with a pumpkin muffin can’t hurt, right? Not true! The best way to get pumpkin’s health benefits is to avoid the sugar and processing of baked goods or pumpkin flavoring. Opt for more wholesome choices, such as roasted pumpkin, pumpkin puree, pumpkin hummus or pumpkin soup.

Not sure how to fix that pie pumpkin?

Here’s a recipe from the University of Illinois Extension to get started. Remember to use the smaller pie pumpkin rather than a jack-o’-lantern (great for carving, not so much for eating). When purchasing pumpkins, estimate 1 pound of raw pumpkin to yield 1 cup of cooked pulp.

Pumpkin Puree
Select a pie pumpkin, typically smaller in size than a jack-o’-lantern. Wash the pumpkin. Cut around the pumpkin top to bottom, making two halves. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. (Save the seeds to plant next year, and roast a few for snacks).

Cut the pumpkin into manageable pieces. Place cut side down on a parchment- or foil-covered baking pan. Cook 45 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees F or until fork tender. Remove from oven and cool.

Scrape out pulp and process in a blender or food processor. Use immediately or freeze in freezer bags.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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