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Pumpkins, gourds and squash make fall colorful

FALLBROOK – Halloween takes place during a time of year characterized by earthen-colored chrysanthemums, leaf-lined walkways and crisp autumn air. As colorful as the costumes children wear for trick-or-treating may be, nature's beauty is unsurpassed this time of year, and the scores of pumpkins, gourds and squashes on display only add to that colorful mélange.

The Cucurbitaceae family may be best known for pumpkins, squash and gourds, but there actually are 800 species that belong to this family. While they share many of the same properties, these fruits each have their own unique attributes.

The main differences between squashes, gourds and pumpkins is their intended purposes, whether they are ornamental or edible.

Squash

Squashes come in summer and winter varieties. Winter ones do not actually grow in the winter; in fact, they're harvested in late summer and early fall, but the name references the hard shell casing that protects the tender pulp inside.

Zucchini are summer squash because their outer flesh is tender, while butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and Hubbard squashes are winter squashes because they feature a tough skin. Even though it takes some effort to crack that shell, the dense, nutrient-rich flesh inside is well worth the workout.

Gourds

Gourds are essentially ornamental squashes; they aren't cultivated for eating. Instead they are bred to look beautiful and unique in autumn centerpieces. Types of gourds include autumn wing gourd, warted gourds, turban gourds, and bottle gourds. Each gourd is unique in its shape and color.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins come in ornamental and edible varieties. Even though all pumpkins can be consumed, some taste better than others. Small pumpkins tend to be decorative because, according to Nutritious Life, they do not have enough meat inside to make them worthy of cooking. However, sugar pumpkins are best for baking and cooking favorite recipes, states the resource Pumpkin Nook.

The festive hues and flavors of squashes, gourds and pumpkins are one more thing that makes autumn special.

Borrowing from the flavors of the season, including pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg, "Spiced Pumpkin Cake" from "Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Home Cooking (Time Home Entertainment)" from the editors of Real Simple can be a welcome addition to any fall spread.

Spice Pumpkin Cake

Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan

5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 cup molasses

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high heat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Beat in the pumpkin puree, milk, and molasses (the mixture may appear curdled). Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle over the cake. Let set before serving.

*Tip: This cake can be baked and glazed up to one day in advance. Store, covered at room temperature.

How to prepare and cook pumpkin seeds

According to Healthline, an online medical resource, pumpkin seeds provide a host of health benefits. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that a single cup of pumpkin seeds can provide as much as 22% of a person's daily recommended value of dietary fiber.

In addition, pumpkin seeds are loaded with vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting and bone metabolisms and helps to regulate blood calcium levels. The following are some tips, courtesy of Whole Foods, for preparing and cooking pumpkin seeds.

¥ Remove seeds from the inner cavity and wipe off the pulp. Then spread the seeds out evenly on a paper bag, allowing them to dry overnight.

¥ Once the seeds have dried, they can be placed in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast the seeds in the oven at a temperature between 160 and 170 F for 15 to 20 minutes. Whole Foods notes researchers found that roasting pumpkin seeds for more than 20 minutes can lead to unwanted changes in the fat structure of the seeds. To avoid such changes, make sure the seeds are not roasted for more than 20 minutes.

Roasted pumpkin seeds can be served as-is as a delicious snack. Whole Foods notes that seeds also can be sprinkled into mixed green salads. Pumpkin seeds can even be ground with fresh garlic, parsley and cilantro leaves and then mixed with olive oil and lemon juice to create a delicious salad dressing. Chopped pumpkin seeds also can be added to cereals.

The seeds of butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash can also be roasted and eaten. All of them make nutritious, tasty snacks.

 

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