The past few days have been sunny, warm, t-shirt wearing days, but all around me are signs that it is, in fact, fall. The nights are cold, the mornings brisk, and the trees are beginning to turn to lovely shades of autumn. Ah, I can almost smell it!
Each year The Boyfriend grows his own pie pumpkins, and makes the most out-of-this-world, famously good, pumpkin pies. This year, however, the pumpkin plant took a turn for the worst. Perhaps it was the pumpkin-flu that’s been going around. Or, maybe, it’s that we didn’t water it soon enough during the hottest week of the year. *Shrug* whatever the cause, we don’t have fresh lovely pumpkins of our own, so I went out and bought local, organic, as-close-as-I-could-find-to-our-own-backyard-pumpkins. Close enough!
Don’t they look like the Backstreet Boys? I’m going to name that front one Howie. How you doin’, Howie? I’m about to gouge out your insides. (Note: this is not a threat to any members of the boy band).
So – why so many pumpkins? Because, because, because – of all the wonderful things they does! Besides the many pies that will be made in the coming months, and pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin doughnuts, I have dozens of other pumpkin recipes just waiting to be tried.
All of those recipes, though, require pumpkin puree… and while it may be tempting to buy the canned stuff, please, resist the urge. The secret to a wonderful pumpkin pie? Turns out, it’s not the recipe, so much as the quality of ingredients. In fact, that’s true of most things. Use the best ingredients you can find, and the dish gets that much better. And homemade pumpkin puree is no exception.
Now, you may be saying, “You want me to roast a whole pumpkin every time I need a little puree?” Well, no… not unless you want to. The wonderful thing about homemade puree is that it can be easily frozen for later use – up to 8 months later use! That means pumpkin well into next year! *Jumps up and down* – are you as excited as I am?!
The other wonderful thing about pureeing is… it’s easy! So easy, in fact, that I’m going to show you in detailed step-by-step photos how to do it, because I clearly don’t think you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own.
(Kidding. You’ve got this!)
These are my two favorite ways to make pumpkin puree – roasting, and steaming. I’m going to show you both, and tell you which one I prefer, and why. They’re both good options to know, though, so you can choose for yourself which you prefer.
DIY Pumpkin Puree #1 – Roasting
Put on some music, grab yourself a pie pumpkin, and preheat your oven to 350f. Let’s get to it!
Start with a small, good looking pumpkin. How you doin’, beautiful? Be sure to get a “sugar” or “pie” pumpkin – they’re a different variety than those commonly used for jack-o-lanterns, and result in a much better flavor.
Then lop its head off.
Waste not, here – you can cut the meat from around the stem and use that, too. I did not, because I wanted to goof around with the pumpkin cap. Sadly, I did not take photos to document what a dork I am.
…Or did I?
I’m a wizard!
Pumpkin in half.
Pumpkin in quarters.
Scrape out the guts of the pumpkin into a bowl – whatever you do, I beg of you, don’t dispose of the seeds. Later we’ll talk about roasting, but for now, just set them aside. (Update: I don’t know why it took me this long to figure it out, but an ice cream scoop is the best tool around for scooping out the pumpkin inards. You’re welcome.)
Feel free to make gruesome sound effects during this part. In fact, the more gory the pumpkin massacre, the better the puree. You heard it here first.
Sometimes it’s a bit tough to scrape out all the stringy bits, but don’t worry about leaving a few behind. Just scrape them mostly clean, and lay them out on a baking sheet, like so:
Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until fork tender. The time will depend a lot on how big your pumpkin is, so be prepared for it to take a little while.
Voila! Like magic!
Let them rest and cool for a bit so you can handle them – if you’d like, you can drape a towel over them while they cool and the steam might help loosen the skins.
With the help of a spoon or a butter knife, peel the skins back away from the flesh. If you’re impatient like me, and skipped the part where I say to let it sit and cool, you’re probably experiencing quite a bit of burning right now.
Patience, young grasshopper, patience…
Once all the skins are removed, cut the flesh into manageable chunks (words I never thought I’d say) and add them to your food processor.
Pulse a few times to get things going, then blend until smooth.
If your puree is too dry, you can add a few drops of water – this has never been a problem for me, but I hear it can happen. If it’s too wet (which is more likely than it being too dry), you can either strain it through a cheesecloth overnight (line a strainer with cheese cloth, add the pumpkin puree, and set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight, and the liquid should drain right out), or you can reduce it down in a pot on the stove over medium-low heat. Just be sure to keep stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. (Update: I’ve recently seen that you can do this in the oven, too, by spreading the puree into an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and baking at a low temperature until the excess moisture has dissipated. Try to keep in mind the consistency of canned puree, and aim for your puree to look about the same, this way it will act the same in a recipe.)
At this point you can use the puree right away, or store it. I like to measure it into freezer bags, about 1 cup per bag, so I know how much I’m getting when I reach for one.
Zip up the bag almost all the way, then lay it flat and press most of the air out, making an even layer of puree. It’ll take up less room in the freezer, this way, and thaw faster when you need it.
Seal the rest of the way, label, and store in the freezer for up to 6-8 months. (Or you can store the fresh puree in the refrigerate for up to three days.)
Aren’t photos fun? Roasting pumpkin is a great way to go when you’ve got a little time on your hands. The next method is a bit quicker, though, and is my personal favorite way to make pumpkin puree. Onward!
DIY Pumpkin Puree #2 – Steaming
Begin the same as before. Start with a small pie pumpkin (also called a sugar pumpkin), lop off its head, cut it into quarters, and scrape out the guts…
Now wait! This is where things go differently. Chop the pumpkin into 1-2 inch chunks, and put them in a steamer basket. I use my handy-dandy rice cooker, because I can set it and forget it. Unlike the roasting method, I like to leave the skin on for this method, mainly because it is less work, but also because I’m using organic pumpkins and the skin has good nutrients in it — just be sure to cut off any questionable parts (such as bumpy, dry, or otherwise gnarly looking spots) before steaming. (And if you’re using a conventional pumpkin, or just don’t want the skin in your puree, feel free to peel the pumpkin before chopping it and steaming. This is just my personal preference.)
Steam for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your chunks), or until fork tender through the skin.
Once tender, remove the pumpkin from the steamer and let it cool for a bit, uncovered. Then add the chunks to your food processor and blend until smooth.
This method tends to produce a more watery puree than roasting does, so if you notice that your puree is particularly wet, you may need to strain it through some cheese cloth overnight, or add it to a saucepan and cook off the excess liquid (just remember to stir frequently to keep it from scorching). Keep in mind the consistency of canned pumpkin puree, and try to aim for your puree to have about the same level of moisture, this way it will act the same in whatever recipe you use it in.
Seal the finished puree in plastic baggies, and store for future use. It should keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days, or you can freeze it for up to 6-8 months.
Here you can see tiny flecks of the skin in the puree, but it doesn’t effect the texture of whatever you’re making hardly at all (I use it in my pumpkin pies, and it’s barely noticeable). Plus, it adds fiber, and nutrients – yay!
I’m not sure what it is, but steaming the pumpkin always seems to result in a slightly sweeter, more flavorful puree. It’s also significantly faster than roasting, which is definitely a bonus! The only downside to this method is that the puree is generally wetter, and you may need to strain it or cook it down before using it in a recipe. Still, the results are worth it, in my book!
Method number one is, I think, the more common way – it’s the way I’ve always known, and results in a perfectly decent puree. Plus, if it’s a crisp fall day, having the oven running is sometimes a nice way to warm up the house.
The second is the way The Boyfriend has always done it, and… as is his way… it’s faster, easier, and tastier than the first. So, why am I even bothering to show you both? Because it’s good to have options. If you don’t want to risk having a wetter puree, or prefer your puree without the skin, roasting is easier. If you want a slightly faster, sweeter puree, go with steaming. Its all up to you!
A couple notes:
1. if you wanted, you could mash your cooked pumpkin with a potato masher, pastry cutter, fist… whatever floats your boat. Using a food processor or a blender isn’t necessary, but they’ll definitely get the job done faster.
2. be careful putting hot things in your blender or food processor – be sure to pulse things a few times first before letting it spin, or the heat could cause it to explode (er, I mean, spatter all over the place).
3. I usually get about 3-4 cups of puree from one pie pumpkin, or about enough for two pies. Your mileage my vary. (Update: you can find my recipe for pumpkin pie, here: My Family’s Favorite Pumpkin Pie)
4. once you’ve had homemade puree, you might not want to go back to the canned stuff. You’ve been warned!
Oh, and I almost forgot – what about those delicious pumpkin seeds?
Remove the seeds from the stringy pumpkin innards into a strainer or colander.
Rinse thoroughly under cold water, and shake off the excess water (they’ll still be kind of wet and slimy, but that’s okay. Just try to strain off as much water as you can).
Lightly grease a baking sheet (or spray with cooking spray), and spread the seeds in a (somewhat) even layer. I like to stir the seeds around a bit so they get a light coating of the oil on the pan. Sprinkle with salt (and any other seasonings you like), and roast in a 350f. oven for about 10-12 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to keep them from burning.
I like mine with just salt, but you can flavor them however you want. Sometimes I’ll add a dash of cumin and curry powder, but you could also use garlic powder, cayenne, cinnamon… whatever floats your boat. Just add a dash of whatever spices you like along with the salt, and roast as directed.
When I was a kid my mother would always roast the seeds from our jack-o-lanterns, so for me they’re super nostalgic. Definitely one of the best parts of pumpkin preparation, and so much better when you didn’t have to spend half an hour scraping your cold little hands around inside a giant pumpkin in 40 degree weather. Was I the only child messy enough to be told to carve their pumpkin outside? Anyway…
Fall is one of the best times for cooking – chill weather, warm blankets, cozy bowls of soup, and freshly baked breads and pies. Pumpkin is just one of the things I look forward to most, and this year I’m more excited than ever to be making my own puree. In fact, I’m off to stock up on even more pumpkins, you know, just in case.
What’s your favorite pumpkin recipe? Let me know in the comments below!