While the farmers markets are winding down for the season, you can still find everything from green beans and potatoes to corn and tomatoes, apples and pears, but don't forget the pumpkins!
There's nothing better than pie made from fresh pumpkin, not to mention breads, cakes, cookies and more.
The most common pie and baking pumpkins include Sugar or Sweet Pie, Small Sugar or New England Pie, and Sugar Baby. Choose a pumpkin that is heavy for its size, which means it has more moisture and lower chances of the flesh being dry or stringy.
Don't refrigerate unless you have cut the pumpkin. Stored whole pumpkins in a cool, dry place -- they will keep that way a couple months before being used. Depending on the size of the pie and baking pumpkin you choose, you can count on getting two to four cups of puree per pumpkin.
If you're planning to prepare puree for baking, cut out the stem and slice the pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds with your hands or a spoon and scrape out the strings. Rinse the seeds in cold water. Other winter squash may be prepared with this same method.
To cook your pumpkin in the microwave, place pumpkin halves face down on a microwave-safe plate and cook on high for approximately 15 minutes.
In the oven, place pumpkin halves face down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half.
On the stovetop, place pumpkin in a large pot and boil in a cup of water approximately 30 minutes, adding more water as necessary. Alternately, you may steam pumpkin for about 15 minutes.
With any method, test for doneness with a fork. The pumpkin is ready when it's tender and fork slides easily through outer skin.
To prepare puree, scoop cooked pumpkin out of skin. Puree with a masher or food processor. Pumpkin puree should be the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Fresh pumpkin puree can be substituted in equal amounts in recipes calling for solid-pack canned pumpkin. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a week. For longer storage, freeze in freezer bags or containers for as long as 12 months.
To roast those pumpkin seeds you saved, remove pulp or strings from seeds. Rinse and dry seeds. Place the seeds in a bowl with a few teaspoons of olive oil (depending on amount of seeds) and sprinkle with salt to taste. Roast on a cookie sheet in a 375-degree oven until golden. Store in an airtight container.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using fresh pumpkin. This first recipe has a cheesecake twist when you have a hankering for something different.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
2 cups pumpkin puree
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup (5 ounces) evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pastry for single-crust pie
crushed graham crackers