Instead of carving scary faces to make a Jack-o’-lantern, why not try decorating with a reusable one and give a new purpose to a fresh pumpkin for cooking and baking? You may think why would you want to bother when you can just as easily open a can of pumpkin puree? However, you will be surprised at how easy it is when you know how to properly cook fresh pumpkin besides the value from the amount you get and not to mention the money that you’ll save.
The first thing you need to know is how to make the right selection when picking out a fresh pumpkin. Look for a small, but solid one over a huge pumpkin is what you should aim for. The best of those small pumpkins to be on the watch for are called sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins if you see a sign or visit a farmer’s market. If you see a bin of pumpkins in the bigger sizes, those are ones intended for Halloween decorations more than eating. Despite what you may hear about their unsuitability for cooking down into pumpkin puree, you can use both small and large sizes.
Trust me, I experimented with both and was shocked at how much less pumpkin puree I got from a large pumpkin compared to a small one. In my experience, you definitely get more cooked pumpkin from the small variety. A large pumpkin seems to be more hollow with less meat. I made that discovery when I bought a second large pumpkin on sale the following day after Halloween. I had more seeds and a sloppy mess with the big one too, which amounted to extra cleaning and chopping as well.
My first venture into trying to cook a fresh pumpkin was a disaster. I peeled and chopped pieces of the pumpkin and set them in a pot of water to boil like when making mashed potatoes. In fact, cookbooks and searching online was vague about the amount of water you need to make puree.
Well, readers, I learned a valuable lesson that I can now share with you on how to properly cook a fresh pumpkin for puree. You only want a small amount of water to just cover your pumpkin pieces. Furthermore, you only want to add a few pieces at a time instead of trying to fit that entire chopped pumpkin into the pot. Watch them so that have enough water and gradually add more pieces to your pot. As the pumpkin pieces cook, they produce more liquid and soften enough to mash.
The easiest way to go about pureeing the pumpkin is taking out the food processor. I put in a little of the cooked pumpkin pieces and grind them until making a smooth puree. After I process them, I transfer to my containers for storage in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin fudge, etc.
If you don’t have any freezer containers, you can always do what I do with clean peanut butter jars. In fact, I often divide and prepare the puree for several recipes such as for pumpkin pies and then transfer into those jars for the freezer. When the family wants a pumpkin treat, I just measure out what the recipe needs before freezing, unthaw a jar and later pour it out into my mixing bowl.
Another method that I also tried for cooking a fresh pumpkin is cleaning the outside, but leaving it with the peel intact. Instead, I cut off the top, scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers before chopping it in half and place the cut side down on my baking sheet. I drizzle it, not saturate it with some oil, and then bake in a 350-degree oven for about one hour or two. You’ll know when the pumpkin is done when you stab it to test for tenderness.
When the pumpkin is tender enough, the peel will be easy to remove, almost sliding off when you take your knife to it. Afterwards, you just process it in the same way for your recipes as the stove top cooking method.
Try it one time and see how simple cooking a fresh pumpkin really is. By the way, fresh pumpkins get drastically reduced after Halloween. They also keep very well in a cool dry place just like squash until you are ready to work with them. I say take advantage and enjoy the value of pumpkin for your budget and health!