Using That Pumpkin
With Halloween out of the way, you may be looking for ways to use those uncarved pumpkins that are decorating your porch and your hearth. Well, guess what! It’s really easy to turn them into your own pureed pumpkin to use for pies, pumpkin bread, cheesecakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, etc.
If what you have are jack-o’-lantern pumpkins, let them sit around for Thanksgiving décor till they start to mold or shrivel, and then compost them. Sorry, but those will make icky pumpkin for cooking—stringy, watery, and flavorless.
If, however, you were smart (or lucky) enough to pick up a sugar pumpkin or two (smallish and 3-5 lbs.), you can easily cook those down into sweet, fine-textured pie filling to put in your freezer for year-‘round treats. Same is true—even more so—for the large, blue-grey pumpkins called sweetmeat squash. The meat is sweeter and denser than pumpkin, and the only clue that you’ve made that substitution is how rich and sweet your finished products are.
Cut your sugar pumpkin or sweetmeat squash in half, scoop out all the seeds, and place the halves cut-side down on a cookie sheet (or two). If you have parchment paper in the house, use it to line the cookie sheets. That will save you some cleanup. Cook them at 350° for 30-60 minutes (depending on the size of your pumpkin), or until you can easily poke a fork into them through the skin. Take them out and let them cool, scoop all the cooked flesh off the skin into a food processor, and puree the heck out of it. You want it as smooth as you can get it.
Then, and THIS IS IMPORTANT, scoop the puree into a thin kitchen towel or layered cheesecloth, set that towel into a colander, and let the puree drain till water stops coming out. You might even be able to do it by lining your colander with paper towels. This is an essential step, if you want your puree to have a texture like the kind in a can. It also ensures that you aren’t adding more liquid to your recipes than you mean to.
Once your golden roasted-pumpkin puree has drained, scoop it into several Ziploc bags, measuring them by number of cups or by weight. Flatten the bags out, and then stack them in your freezer. Label them carefully first, because your pumpkin recipes will need you to be able to pick your bag of pumpkin by quantity or weight. (TIP: a can of pumpkin is just shy of one pound, and many recipes call for one cup, so pack a few of each.)
You can use that pureed pumpkin right away in something yummy (try my Pumpkin Bread/Muffins, Chewy Pumpkin Spice Squares, Pumpkin Alfredo with Chicken & Mushrooms, or Brandied Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Whipped Cream). Or it will keep in your refrigerator for a week. Or use it from your freezer till you make next year’s batch. You can defrost it on your counter, if you have time, or open a corner of the bag as a vent, and microwave it on very low till it’s soft enough to use.
There’s a real thrill in being able to tell people you created that pumpkin filling from scratch. It also means you don’t have to figure out where canned pumpkin is in the store, since it always seems to end up in places that are only logical to people who don’t use it. Go for the real thing—yes, you can!
P.S. Don’t forget to roast the seeds! Whether pumpkin or sweetmeat, roasting the seeds is easy, and they make an addictive healthy snack. I like to make them this way.