First lesson: All pumpkins aren’t equal.
That massive pumpkin that you bought at the grocery store to carve into a Jack-O-Lantern? Trust us, no matter how frightening its face, it would be even more scary in a pie. Those giant pumpkins aren’t bred for cuisine. Their flesh is stringy, tough, and tasteless. If that’s the only kind of whole pumpkin you can find, you’re better off substituting Butternut, Hubbard, or Kabocha squash in recipes calling for fresh pumpkin. Or go ahead, use Libby’s. No judgement here…usually the pumpkins used in canned pumpkin are processed quicker than it takes for a fresh one to get to market.
But if you can find a fresh, ripe “pie pumpkin” at your local farmers’ market, nab it. Typically, they’re much smaller than Jack-o-Lantern varieties. A few kinds we grow at the farm are “Small Sugar” and “Cushaw Orange”. If you buy one, be sure to use it immediately. Resist the urge to use it as decoration on your front porch until you’re ready to make a pie. The extreme temperature fluctuations in autumn will make it rot from the inside. But if you must store it for a few days, your refrigerator or a cool, dry basement is best.
Processing your fresh pumpkin is very easy. Heat your oven to 400F. Then simply cut pumpkins in half from top to bottom, snap off stem, and use a large spoon to scoop our seeds and pulp. (Save the seeds, of course, to make Peppy Pepitas.) Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil to make clean up easier, and place pumpkin halves face down on foil. Place in oven and after one hour, check for done-ness. Skins should be darkened and beginning to peel away from the flesh. A knife should be able to puncture through flesh as if it was softened butter. If not, continue baking, checking every fifteen minutes.
Once finished allow to cool completely. Be especially careful lifting pumpkin halves off of baking sheet as trapped steam make cause injury. Flesh should scoop away from peel very easily, and may be pureed in a food processor or blender. If resulting puree seems too “wet,” drain for several hours in paper-towel lined strainer, or reduce other liquids called for in your recipe. Pumpkin puree may be frozen for later use, but it will lose its flavor quicker in freezer than other frozen vegetables.
Do you have any additional pumpkin processing techniques or tips? Let us know in the comments below.