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Have Your Pumpkin and Eat It, Too!

This October, the Community Kitchens program went to work making delectable delights with winter squash and pumpkins grown at Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. We have a mission: to spread the word that many of the beautiful pumpkins and winter squash many of us love to purchase as decorations can actually be eaten. Not only are most edible – they are super foods!

All pumpkins are winter squash, and millions of pounds of winter squash are thrown away each year because folks who buy them as decorations don’t recognize their nutritious and delicious potential. Let’s end this food waste together!

Another reason these pumpkins and winter squash don’t get prepared as food is literally because of how hard they are. They are tough nuts to crack! We teamed up with our dieticians to put together a single page, double-sided winter squash handout that showcases easy ways to prepare these delectable fruits and highlights their nutritional value. Check it out! (Spoiler alert: preparing a winter squash can be as easy as opening your microwave.)

All winter squash are in the cucurbit family, the same family as gourds, melons, and cucumbers. This is important to note if you’re a gardener because they can cross-pollinate within species groupings, which means they aren’t the easiest family to save seeds from. You could end up with a pumpkin-zucchini hybrid which might be interesting, but if you have any inedible ornamental gourds growing nearby you could also end up with a toxic hybrid. Don’t let this scare you though. Only ornamental gourds are toxic in the squash family, and the compound that makes them toxic is bitter – not something you’d want to eat.

Other squashes are perfectly edible, if not delicious, and you’ll most likely only end up with an inedible squash if growing from seeds you saved. The simplest way to find out if the pumpkin or squash you brought home is good to eat is to cook it and taste it. If it tastes bitter, spit it out. If it tastes neutral, nutty, or sweet, then it’s edible and you can continue to enjoy. You might find out that it tastes amazing, too good to waste!

Winter squash flesh is high in fiber, packed with nutrients like vitamin A, and rich in flavors that can lean sweet or savory. If that wasn’t enough, the seeds are high in protein and fiber, and they are anti-parasitic, too! Almost every part of a winter squash plant is edible. Even their leaves can be used to cook food inside of, like how banana leaves are often used. The origins of cultivated squash started over 10,000 years ago by Indigenous peoples in what is now Mexico, and squash has now been cultivated in many regions of the world for centuries as resilient, nutritious food crops that grow well in companion gardens with others like corn and beans.

There is so much to say about the wonder and importance of squash. If you’ve been convinced and want to enjoy the wonders of winter squash but need some more inspiration, here are four of our favorite recipes: Succotash Squash Stew, Pumpkin Gut Broth, Pumpkin Mochi, and Pumpkin Muffins!

About Community Kitchen Meals

Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen Meals program is based at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands in South Seattle, and celebrates the diversity of food and food cultures in our neighborhood. Each month we partner with local home cooks and chefs to host an educational, cross-cultural event centered around a nutritious, delicious, and locally sourced meal.