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Pumpkin a neat trick for adding nutrients to Halloween treats

 

When the air takes on a crisp chill and leaves on the trees begin to turn pumpkin orange, it's a sure sign that Halloween fun is on the horizon. No matter where you're stationed, it's a good bet your local commissary is making room for the arrival of truckloads of the bright orange globes that are soon to grace nearly every porch in the neighborhood.

Even though most of us don't harvest the meat of the pumpkin destined to become a jack-o-lantern, it certainly can be done. For complete instructions on how to boil, steam, bake, or even microwave a pumpkin, go to the University of Illinois Extension Service website at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/selection.html.

According to the university, 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Ill., and the nearby town of Morton, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. It happens to be home to a Libby's pumpkin processing plant which cans more than 85 percent of the world's pumpkin each year. Just an interesting food tidbit to file away - next time you find yourself in the middle of Illinois, surrounded by pumpkin fields as far as the eye can see, you'll know why.

If your commissary carries it, the sweeter, less watery flesh of the smaller "pie pumpkin" is the best selection for cooking. Even the miniature pumpkins we usually think of as decorations only, can be glazed and baked like an acorn squash, or stuffed with seasoned wild rice and baked. If neither of these opportunities present themselves, you can still get fairly good results using the larger jack-o-lantern variety. Of course, the fast and easy route to pumpkin puree is to buy it canned, like that called for in the Quick Pumpkin Cupcakes recipe below.

Quick Pumpkin Cupcakes

(Makes about 24 cupcakes)
1 box regular yellow or while cake mix
2 eggs
1 tablespoon oil
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup water or apple juice
Decorations:
Canned white, chocolate, or cream cheese frosting (white frosting can be tinted orange with red and yellow food coloring, if desired)
Candy corn
Black or orange jelly beans
Black licorice

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Spray each muffin cup with nonstick cooking spray or use paper cupcake liners. Blend cake mix with the eggs, oil, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and water or juice with electric mixer at low speed until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Spoon into prepared muffin tins and bake 18 minutes, or until a cake tester or tooth pick inserted off center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pan to wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

In addition to cupcakes, pumpkin can be sneaked into other baked items like oatmeal muffins with moist and tasty results. Just replace half the fat called for with canned pumpkin. For Halloween treats, you will probably want to frost and decorate the cupcakes as directed, but as an everyday treat, lightly dusting the tops with powdered sugar instead of frosting reduces the amount of sugar, and still tastes great. Be sure to try the recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, as well. The finished product is every bit as nutritious as it is delicious. (Courtesy of the Defense Commissary Agency)

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