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Cooking a fresh pumpkin for baking – it’s easy!
September and October are always SO busy for us. We become slaves to the garden and the freezer and canner. Have to get all that fresh produce, including fresh pumpkin, taken care of! It makes for a lot of very tasty eating over the winter months. Still, I sometimes ask myself just who had the bright idea of planting all this stuff?
On the other hand, it is awfully nice to look around on a January morning and find that we have all I need to make a great dinner. Even to the dessert. Which is where this pumpkin comes in.
But first, we have to get it cooked. When I was a kid, I got to help my Mom and grandmother cook fresh pumpkins. But not everyone has that kind of cooking in their background. In the past week alone I’ve heard from 3 readers, asking me how the heck you cook a fresh pumpkin.
So, today that is what we are going to do. I have to get all of these pumpkins cooked up anyway, so I may as well let you join the fun, and turn it into a blog post.
Some kinds of pumpkins work better than others
You have to begin by choosing the proper sort of pumpkin if you can find one. Now, you actually can cook with any kind of fresh pumpkin. But starting out with a pie pumpkin, or sugar pumpkin is going to help you end up with more pumpkin from less work. Pie pumpkins are smaller, often a little squatty-er in shape, and if you are fortunate, labeled as a baking, pie, or sugar pumpkin. They have drier flesh and thicker walls than a pumpkin you would use for decorating, or to make a jack o’lantern.
But any kind will work
On the other hand, I want to stress that virtually any pumpkin will work. If all you can find are the jack o’lantern type, I still encourage you to go for it. You can also try any of the exotic types, like a Cinderella pumpkin or the kind with blobby little warts all over. These are generally going to be more expensive, but they often have a deeper flavor, so they’re worth a try.
If push comes to shove, and you are unable to find a pumpkin? Any yellow/orange fleshed squash will also make delicious baked goods. That canned pumpkin in the store? It’s actually a type of squash, called Dickinson. True story!
Ripeness is important
You also want to make sure the pumpkin you are going to cook is completely orange all over. That is how you will know it’s ripe, which will give you the best flavor. Pumpkins will actually keep well for a few months. If you have a dry, cool place to put them, where there is no danger of them freezing. Generally speaking, they will have better flavor as they age. We only have a spot to keep them until the weather gets really cold though, so I got started on them already. Otherwise, I would suddenly have a bunch of pumpkins that have to be cooked right now.
Here’s a bit of detail, or you can hop down to the recipe
Begin by washing the pumpkin all over. Dry it off, so that it will not be slippery as you try to get it ready. Line a large, heavy baking sheet with parchment paper, and set the oven to about 400º. Knock the stem off the pumpkin by tapping it against the counter, or hit it with something heavy, like a rolling pin. Throw the stem away.
Cut it in half
Use a big chef’s knife, and cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Take care not to get more than about 1/3 of the knife into the flesh, so you don’t get it stuck. If that happens, just tap on the back of the knife firmly with a rolling pin, or even a hammer, to work it on through. Once it is in two halves, use a large spoon to scoop out all of the seeds. Lay the halves, cut side down on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Baking the pumpkin
Bake the pumpkin for 45 minutes to an hour, until a sharp knife easily pierces the side. Bigger pumpkins may take longer, smaller ones less. Take the pan out of the oven, and carefully turn the halves over. This allows them to cool more quickly. You want them cool enough to handle comfortably, but the next part is easier if the pumpkin is still warm-ish.
Scoop out all the cooked pumpkin, making sure not to get any of the skin. There are a couple of different ways to do this next part. You want to get all of the cooked pumpkin uniformly squished. I used my food mill this time, but you can also use a food processor, or even an immersion blender to do the job. You want to end up with a very smooth puree.At this point, it doesn’t really look very much like what you might be used to if you have bought canned pumpkin before. There is still a lot of liquid to get drained out of there. Put a large mesh strainer over a bowl that has a small enough circumference to keep the bottom of the strainer up off the bottom of the bowl. Then, the liquid has a place to collect.
Strain out the liquid
Put the pureed pumpkin in the strainer. You can just let gravity do the work for you, though it takes a while, and I am not patient enough for that. I lay a piece of plastic wrap over the pumpkin, place a small plate on top, and then weigh it down with some cans. This speeds things up quite a bit. It is still going to take at least an hour. In fact, after an hour, I take off the weights, and stir it around some, then put the plastic wrap, plate, and cans back on top and leave it until it stops dripping completely. You really can’t get too much liquid out of there. I got about 2 cups from that one little pumpkin! Don’t throw that liquid away – if you have chickens, they will love it, as will your dog probably. I use it in smoothies a lot, or save it to use in a soup – it is really good in any kind of veggie or bean soup. You can use this right away for pies, etc. Or freeze it, and then after thawing, you can use it just the way you would any canned pumpkin. [After thawing, I do usually put it back in a mesh strainer for a few minutes, because there is always a little more liquid, and if you leave it in, your pie or whatever might end up on the watery side.] I package it up in about 1-pound packages, in freezer bags, freezer containers, or saved yogurt containers [if using containers, press parchment paper, wax paper or plastic wrap right on the surface, to prevent freezer burn] – it will keep in the freezer for about a year. See – easy, right?
How to Cook a Fresh Pumpkin
- Fresh pie or sugar pumpkins
- Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper and set the oven at 400º. You can do as many pumpkins at a time as your oven will hold, and you have baking sheets for, but the photos just show a single pumpkin]
- Knock off the stem, and cut the pumpkins in half, from top to bottom. Use a large sharp chef's knife for this - it will be much easier.
- Scoop out all of the seeds, and pull out whatever stringy membranes you can - no need to be super careful about it, but you do want all of the seeds. Put the seeds in a bowl of cold water right away, if you are going to save them, because it will make it a lot easier to get them clean.
- Lay the pumpkin halves, cut side down on the baking sheet. Parchment paper is by far the best way to keep them from sticking, but if you don't have any, oil the baking sheets.
- Roast the pumpkins for 45 minutes to an hour, until a sharp knife meets no resistance at all when poked into the side. [once you get past the skin of course]
- Flip the pumpkin halves cut side up to cool for awhile, until you can comfortably handle them.
- Scoop out all of the flesh, into a bowl big enough to hold it all.
- Puree the pumpkin with a food processor, a food mill or immersion blender - you want it very smooth and uniform.
- Place a mesh strainer [a colander will not work, unless it is a fine metal mesh one] over a bowl, and put all of the puree in there to drain. You can weigh it down by placing plastic wrap over the puree, with a plate on top of that, and then some kind of heavy things on top of the plate - cans of beans or some such.
- Allow to drain for 1 to 2 hours, until no liquid is still dripping out.
- The pumpkin can be used right away or you can store the it in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days, or freeze it to use later on in the year.