Pumpkins, pumpkins, everywhere…
But what do you DO with them – aside from admire their cheery, bright orange presence on your doorstep, and eventually carve them into a jack-o’-lantern?
Well, you can actually cook pumpkin and make it into all kinds of wonderful treats, from pie and scones to muffins (gluten-free!) and bread and soup and… well, suffice it to say we have 56 recipes on our site making use of this versatile vegetable. Or fruit. (But vegetable is more alliterative, so let’s stick with that.)
See the pumpkins pictured above? That monster in the back is great for jack-o’-lanterns. But it’s not particularly good for cooking. The smaller pumpkins in front are much more appropriate.
If you want to make your own pumpkin purée, choose a sugar pumpkin, which is smaller, about the size of a volleyball (more or less). You’ll usually see them labeled as cooking, pie, or sugar pumpkins, and they’ll weigh in the 4- to 8-pound range.
Can you make pumpkin purée from a big (non-sugar) pumpkin? Sure. The purée won’t be as flavorful, that’s all.
Here’s a 5-pound sugar pumpkin.
I bought it from one of the sports teams at our local high school, which did a pumpkin fundraiser. Good idea, eh?
Pierce your pumpkin all over with an ice pick or sharp-pointed knife – you want to get into the hollow interior.
Microwave the pumpkin for about 10 minutes. Why? Because it cuts the oven-baking time just about in half. If you don’t have a microwave (or don’t want to use it on your pumpkin), you can skip this step.
Notes: One reader reports the stem of her pumpkin caught fire in the microwave, so best to remove the stem, if you’re worried. And, if you’re baking a large pumpkin, cut it into manageable chunks, pieces you can fit onto baking sheets. Skip the microwave step above, and simply bake in a 350°F oven until tender.
Cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds – I’m using a serrated grapefruit spoon here, which works well.
Save the seeds; you can roast and snack on them later.
Place the pumpkin, cut-side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 45 minutes (for a 5-pound pumpkin), until the pumpkin’s flesh is easily pierced with a fork.
Remove it from the oven, scoop out the flesh, and purée it in a food processor; or simply mash it.
Place it in a sieve, put a plate on top, and weigh it down. Set it over a bowl to catch the juice. Let the purée drain for 30 to 45 minutes, until it’s thick.
Oh, and save the juice if you like, too; you can use it in bread dough, where it adds healthy beta-carotene.
How much thickened purée can you expect to get? Figure about 25%, by weight, of the starting weight of the pumpkin. My 5-pound pumpkin yielded 19 1/2 ounces purée, which is about 2 1/2 cups.
So, what next?
Baking! Is there any difference between baking with homemade pumpkin purée, vs. canned?
There’s definitely a difference in color – homemade on the left, canned on the right.
But will that color difference translate to the finished product? And how about flavor?
Check out the pumpkin scone dough made with homemade purée vs. canned; you can definitely see a color difference in the dough. But once the scones are baked – not so much.
The color difference is more apparent in the pumpkin doughnuts, with homemade purée lending a more golden hue.
I couldn’t tell the difference, so long as the canned purée is good and fresh. Don’t rely on the “good by” date on the can; if you’ve had purée sitting in the pantry for awhile, do yourself a favor: taste before using. If it’s at all metallic-tasing, chuck it out, and buy new.
Or even better, make your own!
The last thing you want to do is ruin a good recipe by using old, bad-tasting pumpkin purée.
But wait a minute – let’s not forget those seeds.
Take the scooped-out seeds and any stringy pump, and place them in a large bowl. Add water.
Whisk by hand, until the seeds separate from the pulp. Or use your stand mixer, equipped with the whisk attachment or beater blade, to do the job. It only takes 20 to 30 seconds at medium speed.
The detached seeds will float to the surface of the water, where they’re easily skimmed off. Place them in a strainer to drain.
Scoop the seeds into a bowl, and toss them with olive oil and a bit of salt; I like to use garlic oil.
Spread on a lightly greased baking sheet, and roast in the oven, along with the pumpkin. Watch closely; they’ll cook much more quickly than the pumpkin, needing only about 25 minutes at 350°F to go from raw to roasted.
Remove the roasted seeds from the oven when they’re golden brown; some will be browner than others, so just go for a happy medium.
Cool and enjoy.
And speaking of cool – if you don’t use that fresh purée right away, freeze it; it’ll stay good in the freezer for at least 3 months.
I like to freeze pumpkin in 6-ounce packets, as two of my favorite pumpkin recipes – the scones and baked doughnuts mentioned above – use about 6 ounces and 12 ounces of purée respectively.
Happy pumpkin baking!