Cooking and freezing fresh pumpkin
So I know I’m a little late on this post… About 4-6 weeks late actually but things have been a little hectic in our household as of late. Thankfully things have calmed down just enough so that I have time to talk about pumpkins! I have memories growing up of my Grandmothers and my Mother cooking many, many things out of pumpkin. I grew up on a farm and we grew most of what we ate. We would harvest in the late summer and fall and can and freeze and eat that during the winter. One of my family’s favorite vegetables is pumpkin.
I’m not sure if it’s a southern thing or a Tennessee thing but I have a ton of pumpkin recipes. Recipes for pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin stew, fried pumpkin, candied pumpkin, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin casserole, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cake, and of course pumpkin pie. And as luck would have it, I married someone who was equally fond of pumpkin. In fact, I will post a pumpkin recipe soon that came from my husband’s Grandmother and is probably the best cake recipe I’ve ever made.
There is one very important rule with pumpkins – not all pumpkins are created equal. The orange ones that you carve at Halloween are just for that – carving. They are not sweet and not cut out for cooking in the least. When choosing a cooking pumpkin, there are a lot of varieties to choose from. You really can’t go wrong with just about any “cooking pumpkin.” I found a great link with a list of some of the best cooking pumpkins, www.allaboutpumpkins.com. Some of my favorite varieties are the “long island cheese pumpkin” and the “cinderella” pumpkin. Their shells are very hard to cut but well worth the taste and they work well in any recipe. Now if you’re just cooking a pie – the small sugar pumpkin is fairly easy to find and makes a wonderful pie. My Dad grew a large patch of Cinderella pumpkins this year so that is type that I have prepared and described below. The Cinderella gets it name from the pumpkin's resemblance to the one that was transformed into Cinderella's carriage.
When buying your pumpkin at the grocery store – look near the squash or ask the produce manager. Oftentimes they will be labeled “pie pumpkins.” A farmer’s market is also a great place to find home grown cooking pumpkins.
Almost every recipe out there calls for cooking the pumpkin before using it in your recipe. I will post below how I cut and prepare my pumpkins – it is how I learned from my Mom and my Grandmother. If my instructions are confusing or you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment. Or, you can google “cutting a pumpkin for cooking” and there are many you tube videos that take you through the process.
First, I wash my pumpkin really well to get all of the dirt off. I like to use a large old bath towel on the counter, especially if my pumpkin is rather large. I cut out a “lid” much like when carving a pumpkin. Using a large metal spoon, scrape the sides as best you can to remove all of the strings and seeds. Then, cut the pumpkin in half. Take one half and slice wedges of pumpkin. Take each wedge and slice it into small chunks. This will allow you to lay each chunk on its side and slice the skin off easily. Drop the chunks into a bowl of water until you have them all peeled or “shelled.” Repeat with the other half of the pumpkin.
Place the pumpkin chunks in a large stewpot and add water, not quite covering the pumpkin. Bring it to a boil then reduce it and simmer it for about 45 minutes or until the pumpkin is very tender. It should all cook down into the water – if you still have pumpkin exposed after 25 minutes, add enough water to just cover the pumpkin. When it cooks, it soaks up a lot of water and you will have to remove that water later for it to work well in your recipes.
After it has finished cooking, strain it with a wire mesh strainer. I like to use an old dish towel or an old bath towel and after I strain it, dump it in the towel. Standing over the sink, wrap the towel up tight and squeeze out all of the excess water from the pumpkin. I am always amazed at how much water is left before I use the towel method. Put the pumpkin in a bowl and measure out what you need for your recipe. You can freeze the remainder for future uses. Just put the desired amount in a freezer bag and try to get all of the air out before you seal it. I like to freeze mine in 2 cup increments because most of my recipes call for 1-2 cups.
Thanks to my Dad I have lots of frozen pumpkin in the freezer and hope to shower you with family recipes during the upcoming winter that feature this interesting vegetable.