It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins. The round, ribbed gourd is central to autumn celebrations — with its orange shell carved into a jack-o’-lantern, with seeds set aside for roasting and the flesh pureed, sweetened and baked into pie. The pumpkin belongs to popular American food culture but is also eaten the around the world according to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension.

History: The pumpkin was possibly the first wild plant brought in to be cultivated and bred for human consumption in the Americas. Archaeologists have discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds at Guila Naquitz, a cave in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. The seeds date from 10,000 to 8,000 years old. But it took many thousands of years of selective breeding for early ancestors of the common orange field pumpkin to evolve.

Once cultivation altered the pumpkin enough to make it palatable, American Indians used every bit of the plant — seeds, flesh, flowers and leaves. Pumpkins and squashes of all sorts could be baked or roasted whole in a fire; cut up and boiled; added to soups and stews or made into porridge and pudding. Strips of pumpkin were dried and woven into mats and the dried outer shells of pumpkins and squashes found new life as water vessels, bowls and storage containers.

Nutrition: Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of fiber and other essential nutrients. Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squash, cantaloupe, cucumbers, watermelon and gourds. While botanically they are considered a fruit due to their seeds, they are classified as a Red and Orange Vegetable in MyPlate. In addition, a one-ounce portion of hulled pumpkin seeds (or about one small handful) is considered 2-ounce equivalents in the Protein foods group.

Uses: All parts of the pumpkin are used all over the world as ingredients in savory and sweet dishes — including pumpkin leaves. Cooked pumpkin leaves and peeled shoots are a staple in many Asian and African countries and served with rice or porridge. The flavor is said to be a mixture of green beans, asparagus, broccoli and spinach. Use tender, young pumpkin leaves for best results. A trip to an African or Asian market is a great way to find this ingredient.

If you choose to use fresh pumpkin, select small, heavy ones for cooking because they contain more edible flesh. The pumpkins used for carving are not so great for cooking, but the edible seeds are great for roasting.

Drying seeds and roasting seeds are two different processes. Here are some tips from Florida Cooperative Extensive Service:

• To dry: carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging fibrous pumpkin tissue. Pumpkin seeds can be dried in a dehydrator at 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 to 2 hours, or in an oven on warm for 3 to 4 hours. Stir them frequently to avoid scorching.

• To roast: take dried pumpkin seeds and toss with oil and or salt and roast in a preheated oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.