Having successfully grown large jack-o-lantern pumpkins in the past, we decided to grow sugar pumpkins (AKA pie pumpkins) this year to add to our winter food stores. For years adopted the Martha Stewart philosophy that canned pumpkin purée is just as good as fresh pumpkin purée. While I won't argue that this may be true from a taste perspective, it is not nearly as satisfying as learning how to make pumpkin purée.
So is growing sugar pumpkins and making fresh, homemade pumpkin purée worth the effort? In one word: yes, but with the recommendation to roast several at a time and freeze the purée for later use. While I wouldn't describe making fresh, homemade pumpkin purée as hard, it is a bit time intensive and requires a little bit of work.
This is most of our sugar pumpkin crop from this year. You can expect to get one or two pumpkins per vine. We had our first frost this year in the middle of August which killed most of the vines, slowing the ripening of the pumpkins. We harvested the pumpkins before the next frost in late September. I expect that if the frost had held off for another month that most, if not all, of these pumpkins would have been fully ripe.
Choosing a Ripe PumpkinHere's where some things went right and some things went wrong. Because we had our first frost in August, many of our sugar pumpkins didn't fully ripen. We harvested all of them, hoping to make purée from the pumpkins that only had a little bit of green skin, like the pumpkin on the right. WRONG! Choose pumpkins that have deep, orange skin and NO GREEN! Not even a little bit! I also learned as I roasted many pumpkins, that the ones with the smoother skin are easier to peel. Roasting a bumpy, wavy pumpkin doesn't affect the flavor, but the skins are harder to remove, resulting in frustration and more waste.
How to Make Pumpkin PuréeGive your pumpkin a good scrub under running water, in a clean sink. I designate a green Scotch scrubbie notched with a V (for veg) so my family knows not to use it for cleaning the kitchen. I cannot verify that this never happens, but it makes me feel better.
Start by cutting the stem off of the pumpkin. This isn't necessary for roasting, but it makes things a heck of a lot easier. See the beads of water forming on top of the pumpkin? That's a sign of super freshness.
Oooh, pretty. If your pumpkin is ripe and ready to bake, the flesh will be a deep yellow-orange. If the flesh is pale, toss it to the chickens.
Scoop out the pumpkin guts and save them for later. I cry myself to sleep when I find out that someone has thrown their pumpkin seeds away. Roasted pumpkin seeds are nature's way of saying I love you. Be sure to remove all of the weird stringy parts. A few won't hurt, but they aren't the most tender. NOTE: Goats love pumpkin guts. Horses, not so much.
Place the pumpkin halves face down on a parchment lined baking sheet or jelly roll pan. I experimented with non-stick foil as a pan liner which worked great as a liner, but it easily shredded to bits as I peeled pumpkins. Stick with parchment.
Roast the pumpkin at 350º F for an hour, adding a few minutes as needed. The skin will turn a deeper orange and look a little puffy. You should be able to stick a fork through the skin easily and find no resistance as you pierce through the flesh.
Gently remove the skin by sliding a spoon under the skin, removing pieces of skin as you go. This should be super easy if your pumpkin was fully ripe. If needed, turn the pumpkin over and scrape the flesh from the skin with a spoon. Toss the roasted pumpkin into a food processor and process for a good minute or two to make the purée nice and smooth.
(and What Not To Do)Okay, since I had so many pumpkins with just a little hint of green on the skin, I thought I'd try roasting a couple. I mean, how different could they be from a ripened pumpkin? I could not have been more wrong. The flesh was more yellow than orange, they were impossible to peel, and not nearly as flavorful as their ripe counterparts. This really sucks because I only had 4 completely ripened pumpkins in the whole lot.
Continuing my experiment, I puréed the underripe pumpkin to compare it to the ripened purée. A little ripening can make a huge difference. The ripened purée was sweeter, more flavorful, and buttery smooth. The rest of my greenish pumpkins will be used for holiday décor. Hooray.
But, since I had 2 cups of the yellowish purée, I went ahead and made a pumpkin pie anyway. It turns out that a lot of sugar and the right spices can save a bland puree. The pie was tasty, but not quite as rich as if I had made it with ripe pumpkin. So you might be saying to yourself, "Why not roast and purée the underripe pumpkins?" Well, because it's a pain. It is super difficult to remove the skins which causes a lot of the pumpkin to go to waste. Green pumpkins go to the goats and chickens.
Although I would like to, I am not going to make a ton of pumpkin recipes right this moment. You can easily freeze pumpkin purée and use it at a later date. Most pumpkin pie recipes call for 16 oz of purée so I recommend freezing the purée in relatively small amounts. Other recipes may call for smaller or larger amounts, but 16 oz isn't too much to use at a single time. If you don't have these really cool plastic freezer jars, freeze the pumpkin purée flat in a Ziploc freezer bag.
Fresh Pumpkin Purée Recipe
- 1 2-4 lb. sugar pumpkin
- Wash pumpkin and cut off the stem.
- Cut pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings.
- Place pumpkin halves face down on parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350ºF for an hour.
- Remove skin from pumpkin and purée pumpkin in food processor for 1-2 minutes.
Refrigerate purée for up to a week or freeze up to 6 months. Use pumpkin purée in pies, other baked goods, and savory dishes.
(Click HERE for a printable recipe)
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