I have an embarrassing confession to make. For most of my life, I lived with the understanding that a pumpkin was a large orange thing whose sole purpose was to be cut open, gutted, carved, lit with a candle for a couple of hours, and then trashed and that pumpkin was something that came in a can.
Like most kids whose mothers kept their kitchens stocked with fish sticks and Kraft macaroni and cheese (but only if it was on sale or we had a coupon – otherwise, it was too pricey), I had no idea that one could actually make food without the use of a can opener or powdered processed cheese food. I was raised by a woman whose cooking philosophy has always been ‘If it takes more than five minutes to make, it’s not worth making.’ Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about cooking and I had to do it on my own.
One of the things that I have learned is that just because pumpkin can come out of a can, doesn’t mean it should. A few years back, I was encouraged to try making a real pumpkin pie with real, fresh pumpkin. Believe me when I say, once you’ve tasted pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin, there’s no going back. Can be damned!
The most ridiculous thing is that it is so easy and yet, so many people just keep cranking those cans open.
Okay, I admit, making your own pumpkin puree is more work than opening a can, but it is sooooo worth it. I promise.
So, for those of you who are feeling adventurous this fall, here is my tutorial on how to make a right tasty pumpkin pie (Note: I’m going to break this up into two posts – one with instructions on how to make the pumpkin puree and the other on how to make the pie).
Pick Your Pumpkins
It should be noted that not all pumpkins are created equal. The most accessible pumpkins out there were not grown for the purpose of cooking. The very large, flat-bottomed pumpkins that are everywhere this time of year are great for carving jack-o-lanterns, but have no practical purpose beyond being decorative.
Pie pumpkins are small, round, and usually darker in color than decorative pumpkins. There are several different kinds and, until recently, I had always used sugar pumpkins (except for the one time that I mistakenly used decorative pumpkins resulting in a culinary fiasco that can be summed up in one word – yuck). However, last week I discovered Mystic pumpkins at our farmers market and I must say they are quite delicious and sweet.
In general, one small pumpkin will make enough puree for one 9″ pie, so be sure to purchase enough pumpkins for your pie baking needs.
Prepare Your Pumpkins
Once you have your perfect pumpkins, grab a knife and get ready for some fun. Heh.
Cut around the stem of the pumpkin like you would if you were carving a jack-o-lantern. Try to stay as close to the stem as possible though, so as not to create too much waste.
Pop the top off of your pumpkin and discard. Then, with a large knife, cut your pumpkin in half from top to bottom.
Next, prepare to eviscerate your pumpkin.
With a large spoon, scoop out all of the seeds, guts, and stringy bits. If you fancy toasted pumpkin seeds (and extra work) separate the seeds from the innards before tossing them away.
Once your pumpkin halves are all hollowed out and the pumpkin carnage has been hidden away neatly in your trashcan so as not to arouse any suspicions, you are ready to bake!
Bake Your Pumpkins
Preheat oven to 325°.
Place your pumpkin halves on a large cookie sheet with open sides facing down.
Bake pumpkin for 40-60 minutes until the flesh of the pumpkin is fork-tender and peels away easily from the skin.
Remove pumpkin from the oven and let cool slightly while mentally preparing yourself for the next step: skinning (bwhahahahaaa!).
Skin and Puree
While the pumpkin is still warm, peel the flesh away from the skin (that sounds totally gross).
Place your now-naked pumpkin into a food processor or blender and puree until the screaming stops smooth.
Bake It, Cook It, Freeze It…
Now you have fresh pumpkin puree that is ready to fulfill it’s life’s mission as a pie (or muffins, or cookies, or soup, or anything else you might want to make with it).
Or, if you’re completely indecisive, you can throw it in a freezer bag and let it languish for awhile while you decide what to do with it…just try to make a decision before it gets covered in freezer fur.
photos : pumpkins in various states by yours truly
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