Why in the world would you want to make your own pumpkin puree? I mean, they sell it in cans at the grocery store, you know the same place they sell the fresh pumpkins you want to kill and cook to make fresh pumpkin puree. Chefs and home cooks rave about the convenience of canned pumpkin. Why in the world should I bother with my own?
A lot of people ask that very question. Now let’s not get confused with the term punkin’, a Southern euphemism for sweetheart, baby cakes, honey bun, etc. This is a food blog after all. We’re talking about eating pumpkins. Of course, this eliminates “jack-o-lanterns.” These are vastly large, watery, fibrous, pumpkins which, while edible, shouldn’t be eaten. They are perfect for ghastly faces illuminated by candles at Halloween. They are very bad for pies and other culinary uses.
Now, if you go to the grocery store you can find cans and cans of pumpkin puree all of them telling you they are 100% pumpkin. Unfortunately, there is a very fuzzy line between what is a pumpkin and what is a squash. For instance, a little research will tell you that there are 3 primary varieties of winter squash, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, and Curcubita moschata. I’m sure you are asking, So what, we’re talking pumpkins here? Well, Cucurbita pepo includes the gourds we traditionally think of as pumpkins, such as the kind used for jack-o’-lanterns, among others. Cucurbita moschata includes butternut squashes, as well as the Dickinson pumpkins used by Libby’s, the producer of most of the canned pumpkin in North America. So, with that information, now you ask in earnest “what’s a pumpkin?” To help you answer your own question, here’s a little quiz. Which of the following are not pumpkins?
If you said, Cucurbita Dafficus Duckus, the black thing with the large yellow beak on the left, you are correct. That is not a pumpkin nor is it edible. But what about the white one with orange stripes? It was sold at the market with the rest of the pumpkins. Yes, it is a pumpkin. It’s called a Lil’ Pump-Ke-Mon Pumpkin. It is a decorative pumpkin that is also edible but is not particularly sweet. So, what about the little orange globe looking things? They look like pumpkins and now you are confusing me. The small orange globe is also a pumpkin called a Pumpkin Wee Be Little. It is a member of the Cucurbita pepo variety but this one is good for cooking and decorating. It’s just not as good as sugar pumpkins.
I’m sure by now I have taxed your patience with my tremendous depth of knowledge of useless information but bear with me. The reason I point out all of these things is that 100% pumpkin is meaningless unless you know the variety of pumpkin being used in your canned puree. Unfortunately, the labeling doesn’t tell you. It could be Dickinson pumpkins, if you buy Libby’s canned pumpkin. It could also be butternut squash or even Hubbard Squash (which, by the way, both make a wonderful pie). It could also be any other number of pumpkins on the market. The question is, with all of the availability of pumpkins in the Fall, why would you even consider buying canned pumpkin for your Thanksgiving pie or side dish (we haven’t even begun the discussion of sauces, soups or purees – I mean we’ve only been doing this blog for 10 months and there is only so much you can do in this time frame)? Making pumpkin puree is simple, requires very little effort and only about 1 hour of your time. You can also control the variety of pumpkin you use in your dish thereby controlling flavor AND texture. Interested? Then read on…
Hang on now. The only ingredient you listed is a pumpkin, right? You’ve got to be kidding. You have confused me with endless BS on varieties of pumpkins and all you tell me is 1 nondescript, singular pumpkin. Yep. That’s it. There are so many varieties of pumpkins on the market that are edible and have differing characteristics in flavor and texture. Try them. The manner of making pumpkin puree doesn’t change. In the Fall, pumpkins are fresh and abundant. I will make puree with all of the quiz pumpkins, except, of course, Daffy Duck. Blech! Once you make the puree you can do the unthinkable and “gasp” taste it. Once you taste it, you can decide whether it is better for a pie, a sauce, a soup, even risotto or pasta. Your imagination is your only limit. Don’t be bashful or afraid. Nonetheless, if all you are interested in is pie and being safe, then change the ingredient to 1 sugar pumpkin. These pumpkins have a natural sweetness and are not overly fibrous or watery. They make wonderful pumpkin pies.
OK. Now that we have resolved that issue, cot off the stem, split the pumpkin in half vertically, i.e. from flower to stem, and seed it. If you like roasted pumpkin seeds, pepitas or pepian, keep the seeds for later use – another post at another time.
Once you have prepped the pumpkin, lay each half down on a baking sheet with 1/4 cup water.
Place is a preheated 375 F oven for 45 – 60 minutes. You can tell it’s done much like a potato – insert a toothpick and if it goes straight through with little to no resistance, it’s done. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool.
When cool, peel.
Once peeled, you have several available options. You can dice it, you can mash it or you can make puree, which is this post. So, to make puree, put it in your food processor and process it until thick and smooth. If you have used a sugar pumpkin, you’re done. It won’t be watery. If you have chosen another pumpkin that it watery, then pour in a strainer and let the water drain until you reach the desired consistency. Put in appropriate sized jars and refrigerate until needed. It will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days and freeze for 3 – 4 months.