Pumpkins are a member of the squash and gourd family. They grow on the ground, proliferating in large numbers behind massive leaves. A single pumpkin plant needs careful tending if it is not to colonize your garden: boundaries must be maintained and observed. But the rewards for homegrown African pumpkins, warm from the sun and rich from the soil, are worth the effort.
Pumpkin is one of our favorite African vegetables. It fits every one of our criteria for excellence in a vegetable. First, it’s versatility: pumpkin can be fried, sauteed, sauced or baked any number of ways, not to mention roasting it, stuffing it, pureeing it and using it in a soup or filling. Second, it will keep for weeks and months without refrigeration. In places so remote that you have little access to anything but the basics, find or plant yourself some pumpkin.
Pumpkin’s color signifies its worth on the nutritional scale. Like carrots, pumpkins bright orange color signifies beta-carotene and vitamin A. But not just any vitamins — pumpkin’s other nutrients and chemical compounds work together like a symphony to deliver those nutrients to you in a biologically perfect way. Nutrition from pumpkin is easy to absorb, digest and enjoy, as pumpkin is high in fiber. It’s a vegetable super food, as it helps with good a immune system, healthy skin and strong eyesight, among other things. Good thing it’s delicious!
Squash are nutritionally like pumpkins and grow in similar ways. The most well-known kinds are butternut squash and acorn squash, but there are often local varieties around if you know where to look.
The nice thing about squash is that they’re easier to buy, cut and carry than pumpkin. For one thing, they’re smaller. An entire butternut squash makes a light meal for two, whereas one pumpkin can easily feed a large family. This makes them easier to transport with the rest of your groceries and less of a commitment. Another good thing about squash is that their skin is much thinner, generally, than pumpkins so it’s easier and less dangerous to cut.
We substitute pumpkin and squash for each other in all of our cooking and we encourage you to do the same.