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Puree Your Own Pumpkin

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It’s fall, and the temperature outside has become cool and crisp. Even the sun sets early now, a great start to the winter and all the upcoming holidays. This is my time to venture back into hearty soups and stews; some of the great recipes I have acquired for many years are bouncing around in my head. I decided to do an inventory in my pantry to stock up for the winter. It’s like doing spring cleaning in spring; it’s my fall fill-up of the pantry, making sure I have the staples needed to get through the winter. I’ve made my list and I will start to fill it the next time I go to the store.

Even with the lockdowns and food shortages that have occurred, I was surprised to find that a Thanksgiving favorite was nowhere to be found. Goes to show that I have taken for granted that our stores would always have available whatever we desired. There are still big empty gaps on the shelves where once there were plenty of varieties of food. I’m sure that all of you have experienced some of this lately. Just think this started, crazy enough, with the shortage of toilet paper, then meat. Then it seemed that panic set in and everyone starting to buy, buy, buy, until there was little on the shelf at the store. It was trying at times, but we were able to learn from these experiences and realized that we could be more creative than we have ever thought we could be. The recipes I have shared over the years have been ones I have trusted most of my life, and I realized that now there would be a need to add new items and techniques. I have had no problem sharing my favorite recipes because I have faith in all of them with no question. Faith, a word I hear and see a lot lately. This time in our country has been one during which we have had to renew our faith in God and in ourselves. 

I have never been afraid to try new things and I love a challenge, so when there was no canned pumpkin, yes, canned pumpkin, on the shelf of the store, I didn’t get discouraged. So, I set out to make my own pumpkin puree to use for our favorite pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Trying to keep something normal of all that has been taken from us, I decided to make good use of the pumpkins I had bought for Halloween. We used them as outside decorations but did not carve them so that they could be repurposed this year. Now I’m roasting them in my oven and I’m planning on pureeing them to freeze for my pies. Let me rephrase that; not only pies; pumpkin is great for many other foods such as pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin muffins, even pumpkin soup. I was amazed at how easy it was and how satisfying it was to make this puree. I have always taken for granted that I could buy pumpkin puree as a shortcut to my holiday baking. Now I’m going to add this new technique to my recipe box and keep a little extra space for it in my freezer. Pumpkins are a great way to get fiber and they are full of potassium, which is an added benefit to making your own pumpkin puree.  

My pumpkins this year were medium in size. I started by cutting the stem tops off and scraped out all the seeds, as when you start to carve a Halloween pumpkin. I pulled as much webbing off the seeds as I could with my hands and rinsed them in a colander to remove the rest of it, then spread the seeds on a stack of paper towels to dry. The seeds will be saved for planting in the garden next year and roasted later for snacking. I then removed as much of the webbing as I could from the inside of the pumpkin walls using a large kitchen spoon. With a large knife, I cut the pumpkins in half, starting from where the stem was cut off. I placed a piece of parchment on a baking sheet; you could also use aluminum foil. This helps with cleanup after baking. Then I drizzled olive oil over the pumpkin halves and placed them skin side up on the baking sheet. The pumpkins go into a 350-degree pre-heated oven soft; this will take about 1 hour. Test by poking them with a fork to make sure they are soft all the way through. Pull out of the oven and let cool, you don’t want to burn yourself. Remove the skin of one pumpkin half at a time and place the meat into a food processor or blender. The skin should actually fall off the pumpkin. Then puree until smooth. Measure two cups of puree into a quart zip-lock freezer bag, remove as much air as possible and then seal; repeat until you’ve used all the puree. Having it pre-measured makes it easier to use later when you’re baking. On average, five pounds of pumpkin will yield about five cups puree. Place the bags flat in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the freezer until solid. This allows the pumpkin to freeze flat so that it’s easy to store. Once frozen, you can stack into your freezer. Remember to label your bags with the date and amount of puree in each bag.

Pumpkin Puree

2-5-lb. pumpkins
Olive oil
Parchment paper or aluminum foil
Quart freezer bags

Cut the pumpkin and remove the stem; scoop out the seeds and webbing. Oil the pumpkin halves and bake, skin side up. Let cool, remove the skins and puree the pulp. Bag and freeze.

After I made my pumpkin puree, I made a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and the pumpkin worked out perfectly. I think the flavor was more intense than using pumpkin from a can. Just a note; when I took a package out of the freezer to use for a pie, I noticed it seemed to be a bit watery. To correct this problem, I lined a colander with a tea towel, added the pumpkin puree and let it drain for about 10 minutes. I removed the tea towel from the colander and squeezed out some of the water. If it isn’t watery, just use as is for your recipe. Next year I’m going to make sure I plant some of my own pumpkins just to make this again. From next year’s pumpkin patch to this year’s frozen pumpkin puree, enjoy life because you never know what’s next. Defiantly adding this one to my recipe box.

Okay, let’s add a bonus recipe this month. Here is my pumpkin pancake recipe.

Pumpkin Pancakes

¾ cup pumpkin puree
1¾ cup buttermilk*
2 tbsp. Melted butter
1 egg
3 tbsp. Brown sugar
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cup all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

In a medium bowl, add the pumpkin puree, buttermilk, butter, egg, brown sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. With a spoon or whisk, stir until all the ingredients are combined. You want few lumps but you also don’t want to over mix so that the pancake will rise when cooked. Pour batter onto a lightly greased griddle. To make sure that your pancakes are uniform, use an ice cream scoop or a one-third cup measuring cup. Cook pancakes until bubbles form on the top of the pancake then flip, about 2 minutes. Then cook for an additional 2 minutes. You can take your spatula and lift the edge to check for brownness.

*Use whole milk in place of buttermilk or create your own buttermilk by placing milk in a two-cup measuring cup and adding 2 teaspoons of vinegar to it. Stir and let sit for 7 minutes and you will have your own buttermilk.

Butter Pecan Maple Syrup

1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup chopped pecans

Place the chopped pecans in a cast iron skillet and turn the pan on medium heat. Roast the pecans until just fragrant to lightly toast them. Be careful; they can burn easily. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, stirring until just melted, then add the syrup. Return to the heat and cook on low for 2-3 more minutes and serve over the hot pancakes.