A pumpkin can be more than a jack-o'-lantern. As anyone who's been to a Thanksgiving dinner knows, pumpkin can be a pie. It can also be a cake, a bread, a muffin, a salad, a custard, a stew or a soup. Some even think it can be an ice cream.

A pumpkin can also be anything that any other winter squash can be. A member of the gourd family, which includes watermelon and squash, its meat has a mild, sweet taste. Its orange color signals the presence of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer.

Pumpkins are available in the fall and winter months, and pur�ed canned pumpkin is on supermarket shelves year-round. If using fresh pumpkin, the smaller ones are usually more tender and tasty.

Don't try to recycle your Halloween jack-o'-lantern, which probably has watery, stringy pulp. (But do save and toast the seeds for snacks.) For cooking, use small, sweet jack-be-littles, cheese pumpkins or sugar pumpkins. Ask the grocer or local farmers market for a recommendation.

Look for pumpkins that are unblemished and heavy for their size. Whole pumpkins can be stored at room temperature for up to a month and in the refrigerator for up to three months.

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Colonists first learned to cook pumpkins from the Indians, but gradually, pumpkin was eaten less and used more for Halloween decoration. In recent years, fresh pumpkin has made a comeback in the kitchen as cooks discovered it's as flavorful as their hard-shelled, winter squash relatives.

More from our magazine:  Pumpkin Perfection

Roasting miniature pumpkins is as easy as baking an acorn squash. Just clean out the interior and bake until the pumpkins are soft when pierced with a knife. Cooked pumpkins can be filled with steamed green beans or other vegetables.

Canned pumpkin is the easiest way of adding distinctive flavor to a dish. This recipe uses both sweet potato and canned pumpkin to provide a velvety soup that is quick to make. Cubes of fresh apple add a nice contrast in taste, texture and color.

Pumpkin Soup

Makes 6 servings.

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
  • 5 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 can (about 16 oz.) pur�ed pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg or cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 tsp. minced fresh chives, for garnish (optional)
  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saut� apple and leek until leek softens, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add broth, sweet potato, pumpkin and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until sweet potato and apple are soft when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor and pur�e. Pour into 6 bowls. Garnish each bowl with chives (if desired) and serve.

Per serving:
88 calories,
3 g. total fat (less than1 g. saturated fat),
15 g. carbohydrate,
3 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
488 mg. sodium.

Diabetic Exchanges: 3 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat