Tell me a better season to write about food than Fall? The wonderful smell of different spices, the taste of smores, the view of the colorful leaves, Mums in bloom, ugh what’s not to love?! Colton, my 2 year old toddler, and I picked out some pumpkins yesterday for fun activities to morph in to traditions. We picked up a bag of five mini pumpkins to paint and bedazzle. I painted a Spiderman one (not really mini pumpkin, just small) and he cracked open the mini’s package and began painting those along with my decorative gords I have out on my porch. Doh! The boy LOVES to paint.
Anyway, I purchased one large one to carve a jack-o-lantern, but the more I looked at it the more I thought, why not? I’ve always wanted to bake a pumpkin and use the puree for whatever recipe my little heart desired, as well as bake pumpkin seeds. I have never baked an actual pumpkin and this to me was just un-American. So, I did some digging on Grandma’s recipe when mom was growing up and how to get started. I did a little research for other suggestions as well and it seems it’s not a difficult task. However, before putting in the work with a 2 year old running around, I grazed the ingredient label of one of the most popular canned pumpkin puree to see what all makes theirs taste so yummy.
I was a little surprised, I have to admit. I always expect to see a list of 12 ingredients and only be able to pronounce five of them. This label only had seven ingredients which is still a little much, but not near as over the top as most companies and food labels have listed. There is pumpkin, water, sugar, salt, spices, dextrose, and natural flavors. OK so let’s break this down.
“Pumpkin”…ok a pumpkin
“Water”…a step that in my opinion can be skipped in most cases because pumpkins contain so much water as is, but not every case.
“Sugar”…ehhh hard to eliminate sometimes, but Pumpkins are naturally already sweet. I would let the spices do the work. If I still felt it needed a little bit more sweet, I’d add a drip or two of agave or honey.
“Salt”…Salt seems to be an added ingredient in everything. I’m, personally, a freak about sodium levels so when it comes to me adding salt to something, I skip it. There’s already so much sodium added beforehand, why add more? Train your tastebuds, sensei.
“Spices”…I would have loved to know what spices they were referring to. For the sake of our appetite, let’s hope that’s referring to natural spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, etc.
“Dextrose”…A fancy name for sugar. So, not only more added sugar, but spiked blood pressure as an added bonus. Now, dextrose does occur in most starchy foods naturally, but once digested (which it does rapidly), it can lead to weight gain because it prevents the digestion of fats.
“Natural flavors”…There’s a difference in “natural” and “artificial” as I’m sure you’re aware. However, just like artificial flavors are made in labs, so are natural ones. After lots of research, artificial flavors are said to be safer to consume because the components used are safety-tested, whereas the natural flavorings are derived from a fruit, vegetable, bark, root, eggs, meat, dairy, seafood, etc and fermented to be used as flavoring instead of natural. So example, a beef by-product (ugh that phrase grosses me out).
Overall, this is not too bad of a list of ingredients, but after my own independent research, I decided to try out the good old fashioned way of preparing anything pumpkin instead of carving a jack-o-lantern. I first scrubbed the pumpkin down as clean as a clean house. Not mine of course, not sure what that is these days with crazy Colton. After clean and sober, I cut the top off the pumpkin because I wanted Colton to get his hands dirty in the seeds and stringy stuff inside. After I showed him a “how-to” he wasn’t as interested.
So, I cut it in half and grabbed a spoon…you know, the accurate way of cleaning a pumpkin before you bake it. Scrape what you can of the seeds and strings, but don’t trash them! Put the insides of the pumpkin to the side and we’ll deal with them later. If you can’t get all the stringy stuff or “brain”, don’t fret, it’s OK for some to be left behind. Once cleaned and gutted, I cut the halves in half to better fit in my oven.
Set the oven for 350*F and bake on a baking sheet, outside of pumpkin down, and bake for 45 min. I have heard of people baking two smaller pumpkins like my Spiderman sized one and the flavor being a little different, but in a good way. Since I already had the large one, I just went with it. My mother says the pumpkins could be on their sides when you put them in your oven, but even with her reassurance, I was too afraid of the inside being so soft as is that it’d bake on to the sheet and I’d have to scrape and there’d be a bigger mess than before.
After the dinger goes off and their 45 minutes is up, pull the quartered pumpkin from the oven carefully and let cool for a few minutes, it’ll be really HOT! The rind pulls right off the pulp so effortlessly. It was getting close to Colton’s nap time so, to speed it up without burning my fingers, I also used a paring knife.
After peeling the quarters, I cubed the pieces and in portions, I added them to my food processor, and began pulsing until it was a beautifully smooth purée. Here’s the part where I said above water isn’t always a necessity. If your pumpkin is too dry, try adding a Tablespoon of water at a time. Mine didn’t require it. Now, if it’s too liquidity after you purée, strain into a fine strainer or cheesecloth. I used the ziplock bags I had on hand which were actually sandwich bags. My advice? Use freezer safe bags so you can freeze and save until you need it. It’ll keep up to 8 months! I separated them by 1 cup in to two bags and the rest in two gallon size bags.
And there you have it! Simply made real pumpkin purée. This recipe yields approximately 15 cups from the one large pumpkin. I’ll post more on the things I decide to bake using the pumpkin purée. I like the natural flavor of it alone, but I would like to try adding my own spices. Have fun experimenting with your purée. I hope you enjoy it!
1 large pumpkin
- Scrub the pumpkin clean.
- After scrubbing away any dirt, cut in half and empty out seeds and brains with a spoon or scoop. Put the insides to the side for a delicious pumpkin seed recipe later.
- Place each half (or quarter if it fits easier in the over), pumpkin rind down, on a baking sheet or two. Bake in 350* preheated over for 45 minutes.
- Pull from oven when time is up and let cool for a few minutes. You then pull rind right off the pumpkin and discard.
- Cube the pumpkin and place in food processor. Pulse until smooth purée texture.
- Portion in separate freezer safe freezer bags, 1 cup in each. Use right away or keep in the freezer for up to 8 months.
*Yields 15 cups