Yay! It is pumpkin patch time. And your little one arrives home not with a big ol’ carving pumpkin, but with a cute little pumpkin. She informs you it is a sugar pumpkin, or pie pumpkin, and wants to try eating it! Now what?
I feel for you. Until challenged by a super-chef friend a few years ago, I had only used pumpkin-in-a-can … and on occasion still do. But when they are just there, in my CSA (veggie) box or in the hands of my son, it is time to try to take on this winter squash.
There’s lots of good news when it comes to cooking pumpkin. They are pretty non-perishable. Keep them in a cool dark corner and they will last for months. A dry corner of the basement or garage is great. Heck, the kitchen counter works for a few weeks. And once cooked, the pulp can be tossed into the freezer until you have time.
So how does one cook a pumpkin?
Cut it up raw — or bake it whole, then cut it up
If you have a nice big chef’s knife, you probably can just cut it in half and break off the stem.
But what if it is tough, or you’re worried about harming yourself or the counter? Getting out the hatchet or a cleaver might not really be an option. Instead, get out a little knife and poke a few holes in the pumpkin, break off the stem, pop it in a pan, bake it for about 30 minutes at 350˚F, until the little cuts gap and the bottom looks a little dark and wilty. Pull it out of the oven, let it cool or handle it with a good hot-mitt. The knife will go in much easier.
Cook a pumpkin: Scoop out the seeds
Either way, once you have the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds (*see the end of the recipe for tips on cleaning those seeds, and making some munchy roasted pumpkin seeds).
That done, put the pumpkin in the oven at 425˚F for about 30 to 40 minutes (less if you “softened” the pumpkin), until the flesh is easily pierced by a fork. Let it cool and peel off the skin. It should peel off easily in mostly large pieces.
Cook a pumpkin: Mash it up
The pumpkin will be a bit chunky and stringy. Run it through a food processor or the coarse disk of a food mill. Add a little (a few tablespoons) of milk, broth or water (depending on its final destination) to create a thick, smooth purée. Now you’re ready to go. (If you are out of time, pop it in a freezer zip-top bag or a snap-top plastic container and freeze until you are ready to cook, up to two months later!)
Eat it! A pie. A pureed side dish. Pumpkin cream cheese.
To make a pumpkin pie just follow your favorite recipe, and use the purée you’ve made or thawed from the freezer. I still use the recipe I pulled from the Libby’s can so many years ago, yet I nearly double the spices.
If you have kids who dig mashed potatoes (I, alas, don’t), all you need to do is warm up the puree in the microwave, or on the stove. Then stir in 2–4 tablespoons of butter and soy sauce to your taste. The sweet of the pumpkin and the salty/savory of the soy sauce produce a little magic.
If you have kids who are a little pickier, freeze the puree into ice cubes and add them to spaghetti sauces, soup or use them to replace ¼ to ½ cup of the liquid in pancakes, waffles or muffins. The pumpkin gives an extra nutritious punch to whatever it has been added to. Adding pumpkin to muffins makes them good candidates for freezing; the pumpkin will help keep them tender and moist when they are reheated.
Cook a pumpkin: Other ways to use pumpkin puree
Pumpkin Cream Cheese
Just for fun, you can make some pumpkin cream cheese to go with your pumpkin’d-up muffins, waffles or pancakes. Here’s a great recipe:
For 8 ounces (1 block) of softened cream cheese add:
1/3 cup pumpkin purée
1 tablespoon honey, powdered sugar or maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
pinch each of nutmeg and allspice
(if you happen to have “pumpkin pie spice” just use ½ teaspoon of that)
Stir well to combine (this is super fast in a food processor). Adding more sweetener will make it frosting.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Place the pumpkin pulp and seeds in a large bowl/sink full of water. Simply squeeze the seeds off the pulp. They will float to the top. Scoop them out and onto a cookie sheet or baking pan.
Toss with a little oil and roast for about 15 minutes at 425˚F. Pull them out of the oven and lower the heat to 350˚F. Sprinkle on some salt. Or, make them a little fancier by trying seasoning salt, Italian seasoning and red pepper flake, or maybe even some curry powder. Roast the seeds for about 10 to 15 more minutes at 350˚F, or until they are light golden brown. Once cool, I bet they don’t last until the end of the day.
This updated story was originally published in September 2020.
Helping parents, kids and new cooks navigate and enjoy fresh, local and sometimes unusual produce prodded Greta Hardin into writing the book “Cooking Your Local Produce: A Cookbook for Tackling Farmer’s Markets, CSA Boxes, and Your Own Backyard.” She’s a science teacher, enthusiastic cook, and mother. She couldn’t find a cookbook to help people get started in the emerging landscape of local food, so she wrote this one.
More Halloween fun: