Over the past few years, the fever-pitch over Pumpkin Everything has reached epidemic levels. I don’t mind, as I think it is one of the most versatile, delicious, inexpensive, healthy add-ins to almost anything. I make pumpkin muffins and breads, pumpkin pancakes and waffles, pumpkin pie (not something I personally care for, but most of my family loves it), and even pumpkin chili.
For the past several years I have grown the small sugar pie-pumpkins,
stored them in the basement,
and roasted and pureéd them throughout the year to meet our puréed-pumpkin needs.
But I was mystified as to why my purée was not a vibrant orange, but a pale earthy yellow. In fact, my puréed butternut squash actually looked more like canned pumpkin than my pumpkin.
I did some research and discovered that even though canned pumpkin says 100% pumpkin, it is not. Or at least not in the way we think of pumpkin. The USDA classifies pumpkin and winter squash together and doesn’t regulate what it’s specifically called on a consumer label. Trader Joe’s uses a “propietary” variety of squash from Curcurbita pepo, a species that includes zucchini, and both crookneck and winter squash, grown right here in the Willamette Valley. Libby’s uses Dickinson Pumpkins, which belong to the Cucurbita moschata species (a species also home to butternut squash). Seneca, who supplies Costco with the pumpkin pureé used to make their 5.3 million pies each year, also uses Dickinson Pumpkins. They are 10-12 pounds, oblong and heartier, with a stronger pumpkin flavor than other varieties, and an appearance that does not look very pumpkin-y. Other brands use a blend of squash and pumpkins to get the desired texture and color. I have no problem with this, but it does help me understand why my homemade pumpkin pie does not look like Costco’s.
So why make your own purée when there are so many options at the store? Let me begin by saying that I think canned pumpkin is a great option, and I use it whenever I haven’t had a chance to make my own, or if I run out of pumpkins (usually happens around April or May). But there are a few good reasons to roast and purée your own.
First, the flavor is different: more mild and earthy tasting. I think it’s wonderful.
Second, it is much cheaper. Of course when you grow your own it’s nearly free. But even purchasing sugar pumpkins is more economical than buying canned. Roth’s, our local high-end grocery store, has local sugar pumpkins for 29 cents a pound. That means for less than a dollar you can get a 3 lb sugar pumpkin. Each pound of pumpkin will yield approximately 1 cup of purée. I roast four pumpkins at a time, so for $4 you can purchase 12 lbs of pumpkins and end up with 6 pint jars of purée ready to pop in the freezer. Whenever possible I’m grateful to be able to store food in glass rather than BPA filled tin cans. A hint about freezing in mason jars: use wide-mouth and leave at least and inch or two at the top to allow for expansion. Regular mouth are much more likely to break because of their narrow neck. I have never had a problem with wide-mouth breaking though. Also, pumpkin purée is NEVER-EVER safe to can at home, not even in a pressure canner. The only way to reach a high-enough temperature to penetrate all the way to the center of a thick purée is in a commercial facility.
Another reason to make your own is that for your money and time you not only end up with homemade pumpkin purée, but also pumpkin seeds to turn into a delicious, healthy snack. My 12 lbs of pumpkins yielded around 3 cups of seeds, which I will rinse, dry, and roast later.
For us, being good stewards of what we’ve been blessed with is to attempt to use every part of an animal, plant, fruit or vegetable. We are not perfect at it, but in this case, the pumpkin guts and skins go to the cows, goats, chickens, and turkeys, ensuring that we have indeed used every last drop of our pumpkins. And even without animals, you can have the joy of using every part of you pumpkin by composting the leftovers.
Roasted Pumpkin Pureé
- 4 3-lb sugar pumpkins
- Preheat oven to 450.
- Line two cookie sheets with foil or silicone mats.
- Slice pumpkins vertically and open up.
- Scoop out seeds and guts with ice cream scoop, scraping well.
- Place cut side down, 4 per tray.
- Roast for 45 minutes and check. When finished, skins should be darkened and separate easily from pumpkin flesh. Add time as needed. Larger pumpkins may take up to an hour.
- Let cool and peel skins off pumpkins. Place 1/2 of pumpkin in blender and add water as necessary to allow blender to pureé. I used 1 cup water per batch. Repeat with other 1/2 of pumpkin.
- Spoon into pint-size mason jars or other freezer-safe container, allowing adequate headspace for expansion.