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Fresh pumpkins best for seasonal treats

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

3 eggs

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

Combine first 11 ingredients in a medium-size bowl; beat well with electric mixer. Spoon into prepared piecrust. Sprinkle crushed graham crackers over the top. (It just takes a couple of graham crackers to crush enough.) Bake on lower rack of oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 and bake another 30 to 35 minutes, until filling is firm and knife or toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Chill before serving.

I call this next pie my holiday pie because it's a classic pie with a special oomph.

 

Pumpkin Pie with Rum and Walnuts

2 cups pumpkin puree

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

12-ounce can evaporated milk

2 tablespoons dark rum

pastry for single-crust pie

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk eggs then add to pumpkin mixture along with milk and rum. Mix well. Pour into prepared pie shell. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts all around the edge of the pie. Bake at 375 degrees on the lower oven rack for 50 to 55 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

Home canning pumpkin butter is not recommended because of density, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. Just refrigerate it to use within a week or two, or freeze for longer storage.

Pumpkin Butter

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree

1/3 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Let cool. Spoon into jars and keep refrigerated, or freeze in freezer containers. For me, this cooks out to about 20 ounces.

This recipe is an autumn classic that makes great gifts and is perfect for hectic holiday mornings.  For holiday pumpkin bread, press a candied cherry into the top of each mini loaf before baking, and use 2 cups raisins and candied fruit, mixed, to the batter, instead of just raisins.

Writer Suzanne McMinn lives in Roane County, where she writes every day in her blog, Chickens in the Road, at www.chickensintheroad.com.


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