Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's a Fresh Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!!

One of my favorite holiday specials is, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!".  Those old shows bring back such great memories and are so adorable...and, when it airs, I know for sure that autumn is on the way and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Canned pumpkin gets rolled out en force during this time of year.  It's so convenient, it's there, on the aisle end caps...it looks so "festive" and all you do is grab it, take it home, GLOP it out of the can, maybe add a few spices (unless you've gone a step FURTHER and gotten "Pumpkin Pie Filling") and you're on your way. BUT....pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll (never had one?  maybe I'll have to put THAT recipe into my blog!  it's one of our families' FAVORITES!) taste SO much better if you use fresh pumpkin.  And it's not that hard.  So, grab those fresh pumpkins, cook 'em up and you can even freeze this pumpkin for use all year long!  Say "bye-bye" to that "glop" in a can that was processed LAST YEAR (and has chemicals added!!)

You only need a few supplies to get the job done:

1 small pie pumpkin
1 large, sharp, serrated knife
1 ice cream scoop
1 large microwaveable bowl or large pot

A pie pumpkin is much smaller, sweeter, and less "grainy" than the jack-o-lantern types.  Grocery stores and farmers' markets usually carry them from late September into December...but grab then when you can; with the trend towards more "natural" foods...they go quickly.  Look for pumpkins that are firm, have no bruises or soft spots and have a nice, orange color.  You will usually get 2-3 cups of pumpkin puree from one average sized "pie pumpkin"

Step 1:
Wash the pumpkin in cool or slightly warm water...do NOT use soap.
Cut the pumpkin in half..a serrated knife with a "sawing motion" works best.  Remove the stem...using small, short cuts, going around the stem is the easiest and best...don't try to do it all in one cut.

Step 2:
Scoop out the seeds and scrape the insides.  You want to remove ALL of the "stringy" material.  This is where the ice cream scoop comes in...perfect for scooping and scraping!

Save your seeds!!  They can either be used to plant pumpkins next year or toasted to eat (or both!)  Place them in a bowl of water and rub them between your hands.  Then, pick out all of the orange bits, discard, and then drain off the water.  Place the seeds on a clean towel or paper towel for drying.  Once dry, they're ready for next year's planting..or roasting (upcoming blog will have recipe for toasting pumpkin seeds...they are DELICIOUS when you make them fresh!!)

Step 3: 
There are several ways to cook the pumpkin...you can use the microwave...a pressure cooker.....steam them on the stovetop or roast them in the oven.  If you are roasting...use foil.  In fact, line the baking dish with foil, then COVER the pumpkin with foil--all the juices will be saved...and the pumpkin will be, in fact, both roasted and steamed. If you're roasting in the oven add water into the foil wrapped "pocket" and bake at 350--testing periodically for "doneness"...it usually takes about 45 minutes.  The fastest, easiest way is to cut the pumpkin up into several pieces (remember to remove the stem) and place it into a microwaveable bowl--remember, the fewer the number of pieces; the easier it will be to scoop out the cooked pumpkin, so don't make the pieces too small, just small enough to fit all of them into a microwaveable bowl.  Put a couple inches of water into it, cover (with a dish cover/lid or cling wrap) and put into the microwave.

Step 4:
Cook for 15 minutes on HIGH then check to see if the pumpkin flesh is "soft".  If necessary, keep adding small increments of time until the flesh is soft enough to scoop out.  This usually takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, in total, depending upon the size of the pumpkin.

Step 5:
Once is has cooked until it is soft, it's easy to scoop out the flesh with a broad, smooth typed spoon--like a tablespoon.  Use the spoon to gently scoop and lift the flesh away from the rind...it should remove easily and smoothly in fairly large chunks if the pumpkin has been cooked long enough.  **Letting it cool first, is a very good idea, and sometimes in fact, at this point, the flesh can be literally pulled away from the rind with your hands.

Step 6:
To get a nice, smooth consistency...use either a food processor (use the "pulse" button) or a hand blender.  This usually takes about 2 or 3 minutes.  Take your time and go slowly.

Your pumpkin is now ready for the pie recipe or anything else you may want to use it for!  They are fine to freeze...but NOT SUITABLE FOR HOME CANNING.  Freeze them into small sandwich type bags or plastic freezer containers.  TIP:  Pumpkin with a VERY SMALL amount of salt and pepper is PERFECT for baby food!  Freeze it into ice cube trays, then "plop" the cubes out into plastic bags...one cube = one serving.  TIP FOR PET OWNERS: Pumpkin puree is perfect for dogs with digestive upsets.  Use pumpkin with (again) a VERY SMALL amount of seasoning, salt, pepper, maybe a small amount of garlic (dogs LOVE garlic!!) can be used, but remember..if you're going to use this for a pup with a digestive upset, bland is best...so you may just want to freeze it plain.  You can, once again, freeze them into ice cube trays for use if "Fido" gets a "tummy ache" .

So there you have it!  I'll bet you didn't know making pumpkin "glop" (oops, I mean puree) was this easy!!  And it tastes SOOOO good and the smell it adds to your home while it's baking (both the first time, and when you use it again, in recipes) is AWESOME!!

Food quote of the day:  "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: politics, religion, and The Great Pumpkin"~~Linus, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

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