I use an embarrassing amount of canned pumpkin between the months of October and November and I've always wondered where the heck that stuff comes from. You hear a lot of calls for fresh ingredients from many bakers and cooks, but canned pumpkin seems to be a common exception to this rule.
Pumpkin puree is not harvested from your standard jack-o'-lantern pumpkin. They come from sugar pumpkins, which are much smaller and usually more oval or circular in shape (not squat like a perfect carving pumpkin).
I bought a sugar pumpkin on a whim at Trader Joe's (along with many other impulse purchases like greeting cards for no one, chocolate-covered espresso beans and my weight in cookie butter), and it sat on the countertop in my kitchen for a couple weeks. I mean, it made a very nice decoration, so I was in really no hurry to slice it open and scoop out its innards.
And to be honest, after making the puree, I'm not sure there's much benefit to buying a sugar pumpkin over canned pumpkin besides that nice temporary decoration factor, unless you would actually like pumpkin chunks. It is not that much cheaper to buy a sugar pumpkin (the pumpkin yields a bit more than one of the 15 oz. cans), and though it's not a ton of work, it's definitely harder than exerting the calories that involve picking a can up off of a grocery store shelf and opening it with a can opener. So, besides the natural factor, there aren't many advantages to this method, unless there's a pumpkin-seed-scooping exercise option in My Fitness Pal. Is there?
The fresh puree is less sweet than the canned pumpkin, and it is much lighter in color. Other than that, I couldn't tell a huge difference in the taste. If you are looking for something that is less sweet, it might be a great option in savory recipes. It was fun to try, and I got some seeds out of the equation, which I used to make granola, but I think next time I will just stick to that fat can of pureed pumpkin and save my pumpkin carving strength for jack-o'-lanterns.
- Find your perfect sugar pumpkin. The darker and smaller the pumpkin, the sweeter it is. Let that pumpkin sit on your countertop for a couple days and look pretty and spread fall cheer throughout your home.
- Once you're ready to cook with it, slice off the top of the pumpkin where the stem is located. Then, slice the pumpkin in half, hot-dog style. Scoop out the pulp and seeds, saving the seeds for roasting later if you so desire.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Fill up a large roasting pan (I used a 9x13 glass casserole dish) with about an inch of water. Place the pumpkin halves in the water, facedown. Bake for 30-45 minutes until the skin is slightly darker and wrinkly, and you can easily puncture the skin with a fork.
- Once the pumpkins have cooled, you'll want to peel off the skin of the pumpkin. To do this, I just ran a large metal spoon along the rind, and it came off very easily. Then, chop the pumpkin into smaller chunks suitable for your food processor.*
- Place the pumpkin in your food processor and puree until it looks like baby food — yum! I tried to use my blender at first, but it was either not the correct shape, or not strong enough, because it hardly worked at all.
- After that, you're done! Store in an airtight container in your fridge if you're not using it right away. It should keep for about 3-5 days. Then go bake delicious things!
*You can certainly roast the pumpkin in smaller chunks, but I find it is much harder to cut when the pumpkin is raw, and it doesn't take that long to bake it anyway.
Photos and text © Katie Currid