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The well-rounded pumpkin: A versatile vegetable

UC Master Food Preservers volunteers can instruct on safe preservation techniques for pumpkin flesh. (Photo: Pixabay)
From seed to table or as seeds on the table, there are many edible forms of this staple fall decoration. While some ease their teeth into the lightly cooked tender green shoots of the plant, the majority of people know the pumpkin in its spherical orange form, with a few teeth missing. But what is the life of a pumpkin outside of an embellishment to autumn and Halloween décor?

In addition to those grown for use as jack-o-lanterns, varieties such as Sugar Pie and Fairytale work well in the kitchen. 

The seeds                                                                                  

Seeds become crunchy snacks when dried and roasted. For both techniques, thoroughly remove the stringy bits of flesh that cling to the outer layer of the seed. Dry at 115⁰-120⁰F for 1 to 2 hours in a home dehydrator or in a warm oven for 3 to 4 hours; alternatively, seeds can be dried in the sun. Rotate seeds regularly to promote even drying and avoid scorching. Dried seeds can then be roasted in a 250⁰F oven with a light spritz of oil and salt for 10 to 15 minutes.

The flesh

Wash the exterior of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and accompanying fibrous strands. The flesh can be skinned and cubed into 1-inch pieces as a starting point. Some home preservation options include:

  • Pressure canning – in CUBES only. Do not mash or puree. Put that food processor away; keep botulism at bay.

Note that contents can be mashed when removing the jar from the pantry for use in such foods as pumpkin butter, ice cream, and pie all year round.

  • Drying –
    • in 1/8-inch thick pieces for a chewy snack.
    • make a leather: cook and puree flesh with honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This is an appropriate and safe use of that food processor.

  • Freeze – cook, mash, cool and freeze for future use.
The seeds can be dried, roasted, or even saved to plant next year. (Photo: Unsplash)

Want to learn more about the details of these processes? Take a UC Master Food Preserver class or ask a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer. Many programs are accepting applicants for upcoming trainings.  The UC Master Food Preserver Program is open to individuals looking to increase community knowledge in home food preservation methods. Applicants for the UC Master Food Preserver Program must be willing to share knowledge and skills learned from the certification training through local community outreach. Prior food preservation knowledge is not a requirement; willingness to teach others is.

Come full circle by saving seeds for next year's garden. Keep seeds and preserved pumpkin products in a cool, dry place until ready to use. Plant seeds in June for an October harvest and go easy on the water – pumpkins make the list of water wise vegetables, according to the UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County. The Pumpkin Production in California publication notes, “Excessive irrigation aggravates root and stem rot problems and increases humidity in the lower canopy, which contributes to foliage and fruit disease.”

If time cannot be carved out for pumpkin preserving this year, the UC Davis Arboretum offers a Carve ‘n Compost workshop later this month. With all these options, be sure to enjoy this October's harvest in one of its many forms.

Pumpkins come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and are used to decorate or consume. (Photo: Katelyn Ogburn)
Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 8:23 PM

Merits of the proposed soda tax

Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, is senior director of research at the UC Nutrition Policy Institute.
In November, voters in Oakland, Albany and San Francisco will have an opportunity to make a real difference in the health and well-being of local residents. In all three communities, modest “soda tax” measures are on the ballot. These measures would place a small tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Two years ago, Berkeley voters approved the first soda tax in the country. Folks in Berkeley pay a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks including sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled sweet tea and coffee drinks. Tax revenues from the first year totaled approximately $1.4 million dollars.

I serve as a member of the Berkeley Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission appointed by the City Council. This group is tasked with advising City Council on measures the Council can take to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley.

So far, the City Council has allocated a total of $2 million toward reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and their harmful health impacts. At the recommendation of the experts panel, Berkeley has funded health and wellness activities in Berkeley schools through Berkeley Unified School District's cooking and gardening programming, and a variety of strategies by community agencies to educate residents and increase healthy beverage environments in the city.

Those of us working in the area of nutrition science know that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is the most effective way to reduce rates of obesity, diabetes and related health conditions. The greatest source of sugar in the diets of children is sugar-sweetened beverages.

We also now know that the Berkeley tax to date has been a spectacular success. A study published in August by UC Berkeley scientists shows a 21 percent drop in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley's low-income neighborhoods. In comparison, low-income neighborhoods saw a 4 percent increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the same periodin San Francisco, where a soda tax was defeated in 2014, and in Oakland, which also doesn't currently have a soda tax. The American Beverage Association, which has spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat various soda tax proposals, opposes soda-tax ballot measures in our communities, and is using advertising campaigns and door-to-door canvassing that spread carefully crafted and misleading messages to voters.

The Bay Area has long been an early adopter of many important ideas, initiating movements that have spread across the country. Will Oakland, Albany and San Francisco follow Berkeley's lead to a healthier future for their communities?

Posted on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 9:53 AM
Tags: nutrition (115), soda (1)

October is National Farm-to-School Month

Partner with the University of California for National Farm to School Month.
Schools across the country are celebrating local connections to local food producers in October during National Farm to School Month. Education and outreach activities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and field trips are teaching students about healthy, local foods and food's journey from the farm to their forks.

There are plenty of opportunities for teachers and schools to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). Here are a few ideas to get you started.

4-H youth development

Launch a 4-H Club at your school. The 4-H Youth Development Program emphasizes enrichment education through inquiry-based learning. Core content areas include Healthy Living as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Clubs have access to a wealth of curricula materials exploring food, agriculture and natural resources. 4-H also offers the Ag in the Classroom school enrichment program.

Lettuce planting delights young gardeners.
Boots on the ground

Invite UC ANR academics and program staff to your career day or science fair or to make a classroom presentation. Specialists from Master Gardeners, Nutrition Education, Project Learning Tree, California Naturalist and other UC ANR programs know how to engage and inspire your students.

Some programs, including Project Learning Tree, offer "train the trainer" professional development workshops that equip educators with the skills and knowledge to teach concepts in their own classrooms. Project Learning Tree also provides free activity guides to teachers who attend their workshops. The guides highlight differentiated instruction, reading connections, and assessment strategies and offer ideas to integrate technology into classroom instruction,

Research and Extension Centers

Take your students on a field trip to a UC ANR Research and Extension Center (REC). The nine RECs in California are focal points for community participation and for active involvement in current and relevant regional agricultural and natural resource challenges.

Visiting a REC offers students a unique opportunity to learn about food production through the lens of applied science research in plant pathology, integrated pest management, conservation tillage, water conservation, development of new crop varieties, and much more. Some RECs also host extended education programs such as Sustainable You! Summer Camp and FARM SMART.

Students learn about post-harvest research at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Take the first step

The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme is One Small Step, which highlights the easy ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country.

Each week will have a different focus:

  • Education (October 3-7)
  • Healthy School Meals (October 10-14)
  • Farmers & Producers (October 17-21)
  • The Next Generation (October 24-28)

Join the celebrations by signing the One Small Step pledge then take your own small step to support healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities this October by partnering with UC ANR.


Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 7:29 AM

Tasty tree fruit in good hands

Researchers from UC Davis and Washington State University Extension are conducting research and workshops helping answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. Photo by Emily Kunz - WIFSS

In mid-September in California's Sacramento Valley the weather begins to tease us with the sense that fall is on its way. Interestingly, as the nights drop in temperature so too drops the desire for the fresh fruits we've enjoyed all summer. The melons, peaches, and plums have dwindled or disappeared from hometown fruit stands and our taste buds are being tickled by the site of the golden pears and the multiple varieties of apples newly arrived from local orchards.

Late in September our antennae go up at the sight of the colorful variety of sparkling fresh apples. During the summer months the abundance of fresh fruit might cause us not to reach for an apple, other than to pay attention to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The sight of the Washington sticker on the apple changes everything.

It's understood that it takes water to grow the fruit we consume. Something likely not appreciated is that researchers from the University of California and the Washington State tree fruit industry are working to understand the risk that water used to grow tree fruit may pose for human health. Water is a vehicle for bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Water quality training seminars for growers that have to comply with new water testing requirements have already begun in Washington with the leadership of UC Davis researchers such as Melissa Partyka, Ronald Bond, and Jennifer Chase and Ines Hanrahan of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Planning for others is underway in many other regions of the United States. These workshops are spreading the word about proper methods for obtaining accurate water samples in order to be in compliance with regulations in the Produce Safety Rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Partyka, a staff researcher and doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis, Bond, a water quality researcher and the field research manager, and Chase, a doctoral student in the Graduate Group in Epidemiology, are all in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, which is within the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. Dr. Hanrahan has become a valuable partner and liaison to the tree fruit industry, helping to both organize and staff the inaugural workshops while advocating for greater collaboration between UC Davis and Washington State University Extension.

The UC Davis team of Partyka, Bond, and Chase, have been in Washington State conducting research and workshops, which will help answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. For instance, whether growers can sample cooperatively and the impact of hold-times on testing accuracy. The trio are members of the Western Center for Food Safety, (WCFS), a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, tasked to conduct research directly related to the FSMA food safety rule for agriculture water.

Bond, Chase and Partyka are featured in an article titled “Simple steps for water sampling” published in the July issue of Good Fruit Grower Magazine. The article, which helps demystify sampling for regulatory compliance, was based on interviews held during the agricultural water quality workshops conducted by these three in Washington last May.  The main article is accompanied by two additional guides: one titled “The math of food safety,” explaining the math required for agricultural water testing and “Water sampling 101,” a simple list of dos and don'ts for water sampling.

The rows of corn stalks have dried in the summer sun. The harvest moon will soon greet us in the evening sky. As our senses tingle with the oncoming change of season, the sound of the crunch of a juicy apple is music to our ears. Is it time to start melting the caramel?

Apple orchard in Yakima, WA, with mylar film for ripening. Photo by Ronald Bond - WIFSS
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 3:26 PM
Tags: food safety (35), FSMA (1), water quality (1)

Does sleep affect child obesity?

Suzanna Martinez will study how sleep duration affects the diet and physical activity of Mexican-American children.
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off on Sept. 15. A new Nutrition Policy Institute study on obesity among Mexican-American children ties in with both of these themes.

One in five Mexican-American children is obese, according to national statistics. While scientists agree that diet and exercise play a role in obesity, studies also suggest that children who don't get enough sleep may also be at increased risk for obesity. Does this mean that children who don't get enough sleep are more likely to become obese due to poor eating habits and being less physically active?

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $895,620 to Suzanna Martinez, Ph.D., assistant researcher for UC Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to try to answer that question. This will be the first pediatric study to examine health behaviors that link sleep to obesity in Mexican-American children.

Studies have shown that adults who are short on sleep may experience a change in metabolism and hormones, causing the person to eat more and to be more sedentary the following day.

To explore how sleep affects child obesity, Martinez will examine social and cultural factors that may impact Mexican-American children's sleep and, in turn, how sleep affects their diet and physical activity.

Inadequate sleep may affect a child's appetite.
Martinez hopes to provide guidance for which behaviors to target to prevent obesity.

“Some researchers just focus on diet, some researchers just focus on physical activity, while other researchers say it's all about the environment so we have to improve the environment in terms of food environment and opportunities to be active,” Martinez said. “There's very little research that tries to target all three aspects of health behavior – sleep, diet and physical activity – because there are so many factors to consider. We have to know which will make the biggest impact on obesity prevention. Is it sleep, diet or physical activity or a combination of all three?” Currently, programs are heavily focused on diet and/or physical activity.

Social and cultural factors may affect sleep

Martinez is essentially combining three different studies into one to evaluate the context of sleep and how it impacts obesity. The five-year study will occur in two phases.

She'll begin by looking at the culture, environment and socioeconomic status of the Mexican American families to see which factors may relate to sleep duration.

For example, Martinez said, “If less acculturated Mexican-American parents have stricter or earlier bedtimes for their children, is that protective for getting optimal sleep, less protective or does it even matter?”

Living in crowded housing or in neighborhoods with high crime, homelessness and drugs can impact sleep for urban Latino families, Martinez learned from interviews with Latino parents for a study she published in 2015

Sleep and physical activity and diet

The second phase of the study will involve evaluating the sleep duration of 40 Mexican American kids, ages 8 to 10, in the San Francisco Bay Area over two summers.

To record their sleep and physical activity, the participating kids will wear accelerometers during the day and while they sleep. The small, pedometer-like devices are worn on a belt around the hip.

For the first week of the three-week study, the children will be asked to get their normal sleep. During the second week, half of the children will be asked to sleep for less than 8 hours and the other half will be asked to sleep at least 10 hours. The third week, the two groups will switch over to the other sleep schedule.

Their diets will be measured using 24-hour dietary recalls. On Friday and Saturday, children will be asked what he or she ate the day before (Thursday and Friday). Starting with breakfast, the children will report what they ate and drank for meals and any snacks.

Martinez will evaluate whether healthy sleep or restricted sleep the previous night impacts the children's diet and physical activity the next day.

“With the crossover study, we will be able to see how kids compare when they get their usual sleep, healthy sleep or not  enough sleep  and how that impacts how much they eat and how much they move the next day,” she said.

Current child-obesity prevention programs are heavily focused on diet and physical activity.

No U.S. sleep guidelines

To maintain a healthy weight, U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends that children get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily and the Dietary Guidelines for America recommend that children eat a nutrient-dense and calorically balanced diet. The government office currently has no national sleep guidelines for Americans.

In a 2014 study, Martinez found that 82 percent of Mexican-American children ages 8 to 10 obtained less than the 10 to 11 hours of sleep the National Sleep Foundation recommended before 2015. Under the network of sleep researchers' new sleep recommendation of 9 to 11 hours for this age group, 20 percent of children received less than adequate sleep.

“There needs to be more research on sleep duration before we can say, ‘Sleeping this amount of time will help prevent obesity,'” Martinez said.

If her hunch is correct, promoting optimal sleep (at least 10 hours for school-age children) may be an effective way to reduce childhood obesity, and understanding the role of culture in obesity among Mexican-American children who have some of the highest rates obesity will be a key to designing effective solutions.

Research has shown that obesity contributes to numerous lifelong health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. One in four overweight children become obese as an adult, and diseases like diabetes are presenting earlier than adulthood. National data show that 14 percent of white children are classified as obese, while 21 percent of Latino children are obese. With Latino children at increased risk, Martinez is committed to finding the causes of this disparity and to develop effective ways to reduce obesity among Mexican-American children.

This child obesity study is funded by a K01 Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Martinez has also been accepted into the K Scholars Program at UC San Francisco, which will provide her with peer support and mentorship to conduct the study.

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 11:56 AM

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This material was funded by USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The USDA does not endorse products, services, or organizations. 

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