There are many amazing pumpkin desserts: pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cheesecake . . . and I love them all. But there’s so much more to pumpkin than dessert!
Selecting Pumpkins for Cooking
Many people are drawn to large pumpkins, but you’re not looking for the Great Pumpkin if you want to eat it. Small sugar pumpkins are great for cooking, are a manageable size for putting in the oven, and are very tasty. Examine the stem of the pumpkin, which should still be green if it was freshly picked. As time goes on, the stem will turn brown and become brittle. A green, solid stem is a good indication of a pumpkin that will keep. The skin of the pumpkin should be free from soft spots or breaks. Blemishes are okay as long as they’re not soft. How do I know this? I grew up on a farm and spent all weekend every fall out in the pumpkin patch and apple orchard.
Pumpkins don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator, but they will benefit from cold storage if you’re not planning to use them right away. Here in New England, you can store them outside until there’s a hard, killing frost. You can also keep them in the garage or basement as well. If you’re going to use your pumpkin right away, use it to decorate your kitchen counter until you’re ready to split it open.
Making Pumpkin Puree
There are a lot of fall recipes that call for pumpkin puree, and it’s easy to make your own. Using a chef’s knife, split the pumpkin in half. Remove the stem, then scoop out the seeds and fibrous strands with a spoon. Place the pumpkin halves cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F for about an hour, until the flesh is soft. While the pumpkin is baking, wash the seeds and remove the fibrous strands, then spread them out on a baking sheet to dry. After you take the pumpkins out of the oven, allow them to cool for about 20 minutes and then scoop out the flesh. You can mash it with a fork or puree it in a food processor.
Using Pumpkin Puree
I like to serve pumpkin as a side dish with some butter, salt, and pepper, or sometimes brown sugar and cinnamon. You can also stir a cup of pumpkin puree into macaroni and cheese, soups, casseroles, biscuits, or use it in any dessert recipe. Pumpkin puree is also a great baby food, if you choose to use purees.
You can use chunks of pumpkin instead of puree, just split the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and peel it, then cut it into chunks. Use the chunks in mixed roasted vegetables or add them to soup, stew, or boil them and serve with butter, cinnamon and walnuts. We practice baby-led weaning/solids, and little cubes of cooked pumpkin make great finger food for older babies.
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Wash the seeds and remove all the fibrous strands, then allow them to dry. Season them with your choice of seasonings. I like the spice of chili powder and lime juice, sweet smelling cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, or simply sea salt. Be unique and use your family’s favorite. Roast in a 300°F oven for 10-20 minutes, watching carefully and stirring often. Serve warm or room temperature as a snack, or use them to top yogurt, salads, soup, or as an addition to homemade granola or granola rounds/bars.
Freezing Pumpkin Puree
Measure out 1-cup portions of puree and put it in freezer bags. Squeeze out the air and seal the bags. Label them with the contents, quantity, and date, then keep in the freezer for up to six months.