Growing up surrounded by fields in the farm country of Pennsylvania, it’s no wonder that I love autumn as much as I do. Seeing crops that were no more than “dead” seeds only months before being harvested and transformed into food always struck me as a fantastic, if not somewhat magical cycle. Now, as we slowly sink into the cool evenings and chilled rains of October, my heart is warmed by the roadside stands piled high with vibrant globes of orange, red, green, and blue, which silently call to passersby, asking that they slow down, admire, and perhaps take a flicker of autumn home with them. Far from the farm, in our grocery stores and supermarkets, the light of the pumpkin, a light which has been burning since the time of the Ancient Greeks (who gave the first written name to these large gourds, “pepon”), is processed and hidden inside rows of metal cans. So today, I hope to show you how easy it can be to abandon canned pumpkin, and instead tap into the “ancient” skill of transforming fresh, seasonal pumpkins into purée that will last well into next summer!
For our first excavation into the world of autumnal artistry, we’ll be focusing on pumpkins best suited to baking: varieties such as the New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin (an adorably tiny heirloom), the Fairytale Pumpkin, and the Long Neck Pumpkin. These cultivars have flesh best suited to baking/roasting, and the smaller varieties (such as the New England) will have a much higher sugar content, making them great for use in pies, muffins, cookies, and any other fall treats you’re looking to conjure!
It just so happened that a family friend had a bumper crop of long neck pumpkins this year, so that’s the variety I’ll be using for today’s recipe. Whatever pumpkin you use, though, the process will remain the same.
- Preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C
- Using a sharp knife (Our old bread knife worked perfectly), cut off the top of your pumpkin.
- If your pumpkin has a neck (like you’ll see in the images below), cut the neck into equal sized chunks.
- If your pumpkin is neck-less, cut the body of the pumpkin in half, and scoop out all of the seeds and strings (But don’t throw the seeds away! We’ll use them later!)
- Cut your pumpkin sections into chunks small enough to fit onto an ungreased baking tray.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pieces are fork tender (solid pieces may take longer)
- When your pumpkin pieces are tender, remove them from the oven and begin removing the skins when you can safely handle them.
- Put the cooked and skinned pieces into your choice of food processing device (potato masher, food mill, electric food processor), and process until smooth.
- Congratulations! You’ve just puréed a pumpkin!
- To store, divide your purée evenly (I measured mine into cups) into airtight, freezer-safe bags, and freeze for future use. Conservative sources say that the pumpkin will stay fresh this way for up to 8 months, but other sources indicate that their pumpkin survived over a year of freezing!
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Hopefully you saved your seeds from your now puréed pumpkin, because there’s no greater fall treat than simple, roasted seeds, fresh from a local gourd!
- Raw pumpkin seeds
- Olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling
- Preheat your oven to 325 F / 160 C
- If using seeds from a fresh pumpkin, first separate the seeds from the flesh, and rinse the seeds in a colander. Try to remove as much of the orange stringiness as possible.
- Add seeds to a medium sized pot of water with the teaspoon of salt.
- Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- After simmering, drain the seeds in your colander and pat dry (don’t worry about the seeds being completely dry, you just don’t want them dripping when you put them in the oven).
- Place the seeds onto an ungreased baking tray, then drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Stir the seeds to coat.
- Roast the seeds in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then stir the seeds and return to the oven for 8-10 more minutes. During the last few minutes of roasting, remove a seed and crack it open – if the inner flesh of the seed is starting to turn black, remove the seeds from the oven – this is a sign that the seeds are starting to overcook.
- Let the seeds cool, and then enjoy one of the greatest tastes of autumn!
With all of your pumpkin roasting, puréeing, and processing complete, your home will be aglow in the sight, smell, and taste of seasonal, autumnal cooking! I hope you’ll return to the dig next Tuesday for a recipe that will be implementing some of our fresh purée, and may include a special drink concoction using the pumpkin juice that was unexpectedly created with the food mill!