During the Fall there are few things better than pumpkin infused treats like pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin cookies. Probably the least understood part of making these treats is getting the pumpkin purée out of the pumpkin. There are lots of different ways to make pumpkin purée. Some methods use boiling pumpkin chunks in water, others use baking the pumpkin in the oven. Still other methods detail using the microwave. Each method has it's pros and cons. Read on to find out how to select the best pumpkin and recommended steps for making good quality pumpkin purée.
Look for a pumpkin variety called pie pumpkin, also known as sugar pumpkin. These pumpkins can be as small as grapefruits and as large as cantaloupes. Pie pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than their jack'o lantern cousins. Great pumpkin purée comes from great pumpkins. Select the best quality pumpkin by opting for locally grown organic ones. This ensures that your pumpkin will be fresh and won't contain any chemicals that could negatively effect it's flavor. Also look for pie pumpkins are heavy for their size. Make sure there are no soft spots and inspect the orange skin to ensure it isn't broken in any areas. Pumpkins can be stored in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Once you've selected your perfect pumpkin, wash the skin with a sponge and soapy water. This will keep any bacteria present on the skin from getting into the pumpkin when you slice through it.
Among the varying methods of preparing pumpkin purée, all involve subjecting the pumpkin to heat for a specified amount of time so the it's flesh softens. Once the flesh is soft it's easily scraped off the skin and puréed in a food processor or blender.
Preparing your Pumpkin
Depending on the size, your pie pumpkin will yield 2 to 4 cups of purée. The method I use prepares pumpkin purée that is low in moisture so it's a drop in replacement for the dense canned purée available at your local health food store.
Preheat your oven to 350F (177F). Using a paring knife, slice around the perimeter of the stem and pull it out.
Slice your pumpkin into four quarters. Then slice those quarters in half lengthwise to make eight slices. Using a metal spoon, scrape away the stringy pieces and seeds away until the flesh is exposed. You might want to save your seeds and make roasted pumpkin seeds later. Lightly oil an 9 inch x 13 inch square baking dish and place the pumpkin slices inside so they're facing up. Cover the baking dish with tin foil and poke about six small holes in the foil with a sharp knife so steam can escape.
Bake the pumpkin in the oven on the middle rack for 1 ½ hours.
Remove the tin foil and allow the pumpkin quarters to cool for about fifteen minutes or until they're cool enough to handle. Scoop the pumpkin flesh away from the skin using a metal spoon and place the flesh into a food processor. A blender works well too but a food processor is recommended. Process for about three minutes.
This step drains off the excess water in in the purée. If you're making a soup or stew this step isn't necessary but if you're making a baked item this step is crucial. This is because the purée is too watery to be used as a drop-in replacement for the canned version unless the excess water is drained off.
Line a colander with cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl or plate. Pour your purée onto the cheesecloth and let it sit overnight, or up to 10 hours. Do not let the purée sit like this for any more than 10 hours or else it may start to harbor harmful bacteria.
Scrape the purée out of the cheesecloth, transfer it to an airtight covered container and store it in the refrigerator until needed. The purée will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week or be frozen for up to one year.