The easiest way to turn a whole pumpkin into food

I know you. Because you’re like me. You pulled out all the stops for Halloween, but now there’s still a few uncarved pumpkins sitting in your front yard. They’re okay there for awhile. (Maybe people will think you’ve decorated for Thanksgiving. Riiiiiight.) Most pumpkin varieties will even endure sub-freezing temps for a few nights, so if you can’t get to it right now, it’s probably okay to sit out there for another week or two, unless it’s gonna get CRAZY cold.

Most of the internet tutorials on turning a whole pumpkin into puree are just too damn hard. Who wants to do all that cutting, scraping, and peeling? Isn’t it easier to just buy the can?

Don’t do it. There’s an easier way. Plus, why would you throw that perfectly good pumpkin into the garbage to take up room in the landfill? Eat it, instead.

Don’t be intimidated by my verbose description of this process. It’s very simple. And you can stretch it out over 2 days, making it even easier.

First, grab your pumpkin from outside, rinse it off, and set it on a foil-lined baking sheet. (This makes cleanup easier.) Jab it with a knife in a few spots to pierce the skin. (You don’t have to jab deep.)

Put the whole thing into your oven. Don’t preheat it first, because you’re probably going to waste all that heat while adjusting your rack to fit the pumpkin in the oven.

Now turn the oven on to 325F. And forget about the pumpkin for at least an hour. That’s about how long it will take a smaller pie pumpkin to cook. But this technique works for ANY pumpkin of any type, as long as you can fit it into your oven. The length of time it takes to be done will be determined by the pumpkin variety, how thick the flesh is, how much moisture it has, its size, etc.

So how do you know when it’s done? Take a kitchen spoon and press it onto the pumpkin. If the flesh gives easily, the pumpkin is done. Some pumpkins will collapse on themselves in the oven. Some (like this one) will just look bronzed, and may have some burnt juices around the base. (Which is fine, don’t worry about that.)

It’s perfectly fine to do this in the evening, and then let the pumpkin cool in the oven overnight, finishing it the next day. I’ve done this so many times that I just set my oven for the amount of time I think it will take to cook the pumpkin, and go to sleep. The oven turns itself off, and the pumpkin is cool the next morning when I wake up.

Regardless, you MUST cool the pumpkin fully before you proceed, which can take a couple of hours. Don’t try to process a hot pumpkin. Your fingers won’t like you very much.

Now, once the pumpkin is cool, slice it in half. Ever tried slicing a hard, raw pumpkin in half? It sucks. And it’s dangerous. The cooked pumpkin will cut open like butter.

Then, those seeds and strings, which would require laborious, endless scraping on a raw pumpkin, will spoon out like you’re scooping sour cream. And the flesh comes right off the skin, either in convenient pieces with your fingers, or by scraping gently with a spoon.

Transfer the scooped-out flesh to a food processor. If you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix or Ninja, you can use that, too, but a food processor is more effective and doesn’t heat the flesh up as much.

Turn on the food processor and step away! One of the biggest behaviors that separate professional chefs from home cooks is that home cooks never leave the blender or food processor on for long enough. Let it run 5 minutes. The smoother your puree, the better the texture of your final dish.

Now, you’ve got your lovely pumpkin puree ready to cook with. If it’s going into a soup, ice cream base, smoothie, gelatin-set dessert, or some other liquid form, it’s good to go right now.

If, however, you’re using it in a baked-good recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, this homemade puree is likely too watery to give you predictable results. ie, this puree isn’t as thick as canned pumpkin.

There are a few ways of dealing with this. The easiest is to simply adjust your recipe for the extra moisture in the pumpkin. (If the recipe calls for 1 cup of milk, use 3/4 cup of milk instead.) This method is imprecise, and if you’re cooking to impress, it’s better to physically reduce the liquid in the puree to something a bit more like the stuff that comes from a can.

The first way is to re-bake the puree to evaporate moisture. Scrape that puree back onto a baking sheet and chunk it in the oven at 250F for several hours until it has steamed off the extra water. This also concentrates the flavor of the pumpkin, as the water steams out and leaves behind the flavorful solids.

Or, you can do what I usually do, and use kitchen or bath towels to absorb excess moisture from the puree. This method is faster than cooking, but you do sacrifice some flavor.

Before I describe how, I should talk about storage. If you’re not going to use your fresh puree within a week, you’ll want to freeze it, and it’s best to freeze BEFORE you do any moisture reduction. (Freezing shatters cells which causes the puree to leak more moisture, so you’re going to have to do moisture reduction AFTER freezing again, even if you’ve done it before. So save yourself a step…freeze now, and reduce moisture after thawing, just before using it in your recipe.

Now, this is gonna look a little weird, but it works, so trust me. Spread out your kitchen towel (for a pie pumpkin) or bath towel (for a big jack-o-lantern pumpkin) on your counter or table. Scrape the puree onto it and smear it out into an inch-thick layer (approximately). I should also mention here that if you use a really flowery fabric softener, some of that scent may get into your puree. But fabric softener shouldn’t be used on your kitchen rags and towels anyway, right?!? It also reduces their ability to absorb moisture, which is their entire life’s purpose. So if you’re doing that, stop it.

Now, if your puree is really watery, gently pat another towel on top of the puree. Now let it sit for 10-15 minutes, and the towels will soak up the extra liquid from the puree.

Don’t try to scrape the puree off the towel. It won’t work. Fold the towel over in half, and the layer of puree will simply fall off the towel onto the other side of the puree. You can literally “fold” the puree up into a perfect little mound this way:

Now you’ve got rich, fresh, homemade pumpkin puree ready to use in any recipe!

You’re welcome.

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