Friday, December 2, 2011

Freezing Pumpkin

My kids have learned over the years that our Halloween jack-o-lanterns serve two purposes. We always carve them the night before Halloween and let them be decorations for just a couple of nights. The morning after Halloween, I always remind the kids as they leave for school that their jack-o-lanterns will be cooked up by the time they come home. If they begin to object, I remind them how much they like pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin muffins, etc. They all agree that they would rather enjoy their jack-o-lanterns this way then just watch them rot or get thrown into the street.

Cooking pumpkin is very easy - you do it like any other winter squash. Freezing it preserves it so it is ready for use in a multitude of delicious dishes.

When cooking the huge pumpkins, it is easiest to cut them into smaller pieces. One benefit to cooking up our jack-o-lanterns is that their guts have already been scraped out. This makes my day go much faster.

I stack as many pieces in my large roasting pan as I can. These are heaping because I have a lid and I know they will cook down as they soften.

Pour in a few cups of water so the bottom of the pan is covered. This helps keep the pumpkin moist as it cooks.

Cover your pan. If you don't have a lid you can use foil. Bake until soft at 350-400 degrees. This large of a pan took 3-4 hours. Just check every now and then to see if the flesh is soft.
You can roast the pumpkin on a baking sheet without a cover. The pumpkin will soften up  just fine, but you are left with a dry, leathery outer layer that you have to throw away so you lose some of the edible flesh. You can also cook the pumpkin in a covered microwave dish if you are doing a smaller batch. I had 4 large jack-o-lanterns to cook up so I filled my roasting pan two times before the day was over.

Here it is all cooked down. The edible flesh is soft and ready to puree.

Once it has cooled a bit, scrape the soft flesh off the skin. (I transferred it to a baking sheet to cool so I could refill the roasting pan and continue to bake pumpkin while the oven was hot.)

Place in food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Some varieties of pumpkins are more stringy than others. The food processor usually does the trick. You will notice that this puree is much lighter in color than what is in the can. It can also be more runny. They don't usually use the huge jack-o-lantern pumpkin for canning. They often use a sugar pumpkin which has a darker color. I have found that my homemade puree works just as well in all the recipes. Even though it is more runny, I usually don't have to make any changes. If you are concerned, you can always reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1-2 Tbsp. when you are using your homemade puree instead of the canned.

Place your puree in freezer containers. I reuse butter and cottage cheese tubs.

Label and freeze. It will last for a year or more in the freezer. We've already enjoyed pumpkin waffles, muffins, cake, and pie since Halloween this year. I saved a couple of pumpkins from our garden that we did not carve in the garage. They are holding very well. I'll cook them up in the next few weeks when I have room in the freezer for more puree.

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