Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree
When picturing the first Thanksgiving, we often imagine the “civilized” Pilgrims presenting beautifully baked pumpkin pies to the Native Americans. Fact is, the folks who had been living off the harvests of this new land probably had more to offer at that first feast. This fall, you can do the Native Americans one better and freeze your pureed pumpkin to enjoy this flavorful treat all year long.
The Native Americans had been using pumpkin for many years. A dependable grower and nutrition-rich, pumpkins were essential for survival long before the emergence of corn and wheat as reliable crops. The colonists were quick to adopt its cultivation. Roasted, boiled or dried, the pumpkin was a mainstay in those difficult early years. So while it is unlikely that pumpkin pie was even served that first year, it’s a pretty good bet it showed up the following year. Even then, with an absence of the ingredients necessary for a crust, early “pies” were a blend of pumpkin, eggs, honey, cream and spices combined in the shell of the pumpkin and roasted in hot coals.
Today pumpkin pie is a fall favorite throughout North America. But it doesn’t stop there. Soup, pancakes, muffins, cookies and bread are all crafted from this versatile gourd. For a couple of months each year, canned pumpkin is readily available in any grocery store, but those happen to be the same months fresh pumpkin is also at hand. Preparing fresh pumpkin for use in baking and cooking is surprisingly easy to do. Not only does making your own pumpkin puree bring with it all the benefits of eating fresh and eating local, it’ll also make you seem like a hotshot when people ask what makes your pie so darn good. Here's how to transform that orange beauty into a delicious holiday treat:
Selecting a Pumpkin
Bigger is not better when it comes to selecting a pumpkin for cooking. While technically edible, the flesh of those monster-sized pumpkins that make such good jack-o'-lanterns is likely to be too fibrous and bland for use in cooking. Instead, smaller pumpkins like the Baby Pam or the Sugar Pie pumpkin will bring better results. A 3-pound pumpkin will yield enough puree for one pie.
Preparing the Pumpkin
Remove the stem and cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise. Scoop out the strings and seed, leaving just the firm flesh behind (be sure to hang onto those seeds to roast later).
Fill a lipped baking tray with a quarter-inch of water and place the pumpkin halves in the water, skin side up. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or until flesh is uniformly soft.
Making the Puree
Allow pumpkin halves to cool until they can be easily handled. Scoop flesh from the skin using a large spoon or ice cream scoop. Puree in a food processor until completely smooth. This luscious puree is ready to use just like canned pumpkin in those favorite fall dishes.
Just as fresh pumpkin is available only in the fall months, somehow even canned pumpkin seems to disappear from the store shelves as soon as the season comes to an end. In 1989 the USDA first published The Complete Guide to Home Canning, a guide to safe food preservation, which discourages home canning of pureed pumpkin. Although cubed pumpkin (a far less convenient form) can be safely preserved through pressure canning at home, the density of puree prevents the thorough eradication of bacteria necessary for safe canning. The good news is pureed pumpkin is an ideal candidate for freezing. Without any further processing, pureed pumpkin packed in zip-lock bags or any airtight container and frozen will retain its color, flavor and nutritional value for up to a year. Pumpkin pie in July? You betcha.