I’m not going to pretend that making your own pumpkin puree is just as easy as opening a can and everyone should do it, but it is more satisfying, it tastes better, and does double duty using up your Halloween pumpkins. And it’s not particularly hard.
Start with the right pumpkins. Your fabulous jack-o-lantern is not a good candidate, not even a fresh, uncarved one. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are bred for looks. The inside is watery and does not taste very good, though it’s technically edible. Your compost pile or worm bin will love it though.
Our pumpkins came from the pumpkin farm across the street from us, the Peterson Farm. They grow several varieties, including the jack-o-lantern type. We got my favorite, the Cinderella Pumpkin (which Michael is cutting up below). It gets its name from the deep color and carriage shape. Plus a couple others, including the pumpkin pie pumpkin, which looks like a smaller version of a jack-o-lantern.
Instead of carving, we displayed them outside in our Sukkah and for Halloween. They lasted just fine for a few weeks outside in the cold (not freezing) and rain.
Wash the pumpkin and cut it into manageable chunks, then remove the seeds with a fork. Roast the seeds later. You can leave the gooey insides part (remove for jack-o-lanterns but don’t bother with other pumpkins). Cut the pumpkin sections further to good baking chunks (not too small or they’ll be a pain to peel).
We had three pumpkins and made three big trays of pumpkin chunks.
Roast them until they are soft all the way through, but not burnt. Pretty much any temperature will do. Go ahead and put them in while cooking something else. At 350*F, expect it to take about an hour. But don’t go by timing: poke your pumpkin with a fork often.
The only hard parts are cutting up the really big pumpkins and taking the skin off (okay, removing the skin isn’t hard, but it’s tedious). Do this after the pumpkins are cooked and when they are cool enough to handle (I left these out overnight). Pull off any burnt parts and peel or slice away the skin. Don’t worry about bits of skin that are left with the flesh. A small amount is fine.
Important note: The juicier pumpkins will have liquid in the tray and drip more as you peel them. Lightly wring out the flesh before using. But don’t toss that liquid. I save it (in the fridge or freezer) and use it as an easy soup stock.
Take the pumpkin flesh and put it in the food processor. In batches if you need to. Process until smooth. I put the various batches into one big bowl since there were different pumpkin varieties and I wanted to mix them. This is the result.
Anything you don’t use right away, freeze. It freezes very well with little to no loss in taste or texture. I like to measure it into 2 cup containers (zipper bags work but I prefer Pyrex storage containers (that’s glass with a tight plastic lid) if I have enough of them). That way I only have to defrost exactly what I need for a recipe.
Now what do you do with it? Pumpkin pie is the obvious first choice. I’ve also used it to thicken vegetable stews. When I could eat dairy and eggs, the puree was fabulous in pumpkin cheesecake. Although most of us think dessert when we think pumpkin, the truth is its a wonderful savory food too, and it’s lowcarb, the lowest of all the winter squashes.
As for more things to do with pumpkin puree, I’m stuck. If you have a good recipe, please link to it in the comments. I still have 10 cups worth to use up.