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 over 60 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? Those monsters in the back are great for jack-o'-lanterns. But they're 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.
How to make pumpkin purée at home
Start by piercing 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 and accompanying stringy pulp.
Save the seeds; you can roast and snack on them later.
Place the pumpkin (or pumpkins), 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 the pumpkin(s) from the oven.
Scoop out the soft flesh and purée it in a food processor; or simply mash it.
Next, place the purée 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 about an hour, until it's thick. I generally drain about 3/4 to 1 cup juice from a 5-pound-or-so pumpkin. Oh, and save it if you like; you can use it in bread dough or smoothies, 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.
Baking! Is there any difference between baking with homemade pumpkin purée, vs. canned?
As you can see, there's definitely a difference in color; homemade pumpkin is more golden than orange.
But will that color difference translate to the finished product? And how about flavor?
Check out the pumpkin scone dough made with homemade purée (cut scones on the left) vs. canned (on the right); 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 pumpkin doughnuts, with canned purée lending a more orange hue.
The doughnuts made with homemade purée had a slightly fresher taste, a bit of that rich butternut squash-type flavor.
So why make pumpkin purée, anyway? It may or may not be less expensive, depending on what's on sale. And the flavor isn't THAT distinctive...
Three reasons to make pumpkin purée at home
• Especially around Thanksgiving, supermarkets can sometimes run out of canned pumpkin. Make pumpkin purée in late September/early October, when fresh pumpkins crowd the farmers' market, and freeze it in quantities measured out for specific recipes. For instance, I freeze 12-pounce packets for pie, 5 1/2-ounce packets for scones, and so on. Pumpkin frozen at the end of September will remain good all the way through Christmas.
• Sometimes canned pumpkin can taste really, REALLY bad — metallic and musty. If you do use canned pumpkin, be sure to taste it first; if it makes you wrinkle up your nose, don't use it; it's not going to be any better after baking!
• Why make pumpkin purée? Because you can. Sometimes it's just as much the journey as the destination. It's like making your own jam. Is your homemade jam better than every other jam on the supermarket shelf? Maybe not; but it's yours, made with your own two hands, and that makes it special.
And perfect for these Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting!
But wait a minute – let's not forget those seeds.
Toast and enjoy the seeds
Take the scooped-out seeds and any stringy pulp, 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 a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 40minutes, or until they're golden brown. Some seeds will be browner than others, so just go for a happy medium. Remove them from the oven and let them cool right on the pan.
Enjoy roasted seeds on their own, or garnish a salad.
Happy pumpkin baking!
My appreciation to the Crowell family at Crow Farm, Sandwich, Massachusetts, for the delicious sugar pumpkins I used in this post. And thanks, ladies, for letting me rearrange your pumpkin display for a couple of photos!