Each year, eighty percent of the pumpkins grown in the US are harvested in October. Commercial canned puree is probably the most familiar edible form of this popular fall product; however, the soft, slightly sweet pulp of fresh squash makes a great dish when baked, boiled, sautéed, steamed, or microwaved. Pumpkin seeds can also be roasted to create a wonderfully tasty and healthy snack.
This article will discuss the process of selecting the proper cooking pumpkin and the technique for preparing homemade pumpkin puree.
Selection and storage of fresh pumpkins …
For cooking, select the small types of ‘cake’, often called sugar, cheese, or milk pumpkins – ‘jack-‘o-lantern’ pumpkins are not as sweet and the pulp is tough and stringy. (If you’re not sure, ask your dealer to help you select the right variety.)
Always choose firm, solid pumpkins that feel heavy for their size. The rind should be free of blemishes or soft spots, and a 2 to 3-inch stem should be intact.
Fresh squash can be stored in a cool, dark, dry place for up to 2 months. The ideal temperature range for storage is 55 to 59F (12.5 to 15C). Do not store below 50F (10C) and do not store fresh pumpkin in a refrigerator or wrap in plastic.
How to prepare homemade pumpkin puree …
The following recipe will yield a minimum of 1-3 / 4 cups of puree, equal to 1 can (15 oz.) Of solid packet pumpkin puree. (Three pounds of fresh squash will yield about 3 cups of mashed cooked squash.) Any leftover puree can be frozen; see freezing instructions below. Use this puree in recipes or substitute the same amount in any recipe that calls for solid pack canned pumpkin.
1. Choose a 3 to 4 pound sugar pumpkin (‘pie’) to make the puree. (Do not under any circumstances cook or eat a carved Halloween pumpkin as cut surfaces breed bacteria.)
2. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
3. Just before baking, rinse squash under cold water to remove dirt or debris from outside of squash; dry with a cloth or paper towel.
4. Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and fibrous fibers by scraping the inside with a metal spoon. Discard the fibers and save the seeds for roasting, if desired.
5. Rub the cut surfaces of the squash with canola oil and place the 2 halves (cut side down) in a roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water.
6. Bake in a preheated oven until squash pulp is tender when pierced with a knife (approximately 90 minutes).
7. Remove the pumpkin halves from the oven and place on a cutting board or other flat surface to cool.
8. When cool enough to handle, scoop the baked pulp out of each pumpkin half with a spoon.
9. Puree the pumpkin in a food processor equipped with a metal chopping blade or mash by hand.
10. Place the puree in a strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter and place in a deep bowl. Drain, stirring occasionally, until puree is as thick as a solid packet of canned pumpkin, about 1 to 2 hours. (Important: Do not allow cooked squash to sit at room temperature for more than two hours in the puree process.)
Note: Squash can also be cut into chunks and steamed or cooked in boiling water until soft. Remove the pulp from the peel and then mash or run it through a food mill or food processor. Because this technique produces a more “watery” puree, it is important to drain moisture as mentioned above, or heat gently in a heavy-bottomed saucepan to remove excess water before using.
How to preserve pumpkin puree …
Homemade pumpkin puree freezes wonderfully for later use.
1. Let the prepared puree cool completely.
2. Measure puree into 1-3 / 4 cup portions and place in clean rimmed freezer containers (leaving 1/2 inch headspace).
3. Label, date and freeze for up to one year.
Cooking with pumpkin puree …
Pumpkin puree is not only an excellent source of vitamin A, low in sodium and fat free, but it is also very versatile. Whether using homemade puree or commercially canned, it is an ingredient that can be used in a myriad of recipes for cakes, pastries, cookies, muffins, panettone, pancakes, creamy soups, and fancy bisque.
Why not try mixing a little in a steaming bowl of cream of wheat cereal along with some maple syrup? You might consider livening up ordinary mashed potatoes by mashing up some pumpkin puree and sour cream. Just be creative and use your imagination; Also note that most recipes that call for winter squash or sweet potatoes can be successfully prepared by substituting for pumpkin.
Copyright 2005 Janice Faulk Duplantis