Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to cook a pumpkin for pumpkin puree

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread made from a fresh pumpkin tastes so much better than the store bought alternative!  Here's how to do it, complete instructions in easy steps.  It’s much easier than you think.  You can freeze it for later use, too.
Ingredients and Equipment
Pie pumpkin                      Ice cream scoop
Sharp, serrated knife       Large microwaveable bowl or large pot
Recipe and Directions
Step 1 - Get your pie pumpkin
"Pie pumpkins" are smaller, sweeter, less grainy textured pumpkins than the usual jack-o-lantern types.  Grocery stores usually carry them in late September through December in the U.S.  They are only about 8 inches in diameter.  Just like selecting any squash, look for one that is firm, no bruises or soft spots, and a good orange color.
Yield:  Pie pumpkins are small, usually only 6 - 8 inches in diameter.  You can usually obtain about 2 - 3 cups of puree per pumpkin.
Step 2 - Prepare the pumpkin for cooking
Wash the exterior of the pumpkin in cool or warm water, no soap.
Cut the pumpkin in half.  A serrated knife and a sawing motion works best - a smooth knife is more likely to slip.
Step 3 - Scoop out the seeds
Scrape the insides.  You want to get out the stringy stuff that coats the inside surface.  A heavy ice cream scoop works great for this.
The seeds can be used either to plant pumpkins next year or roasted to eat this year!  Place them in a bowl of water and rub them between your hands.  Pick out the orange butts (throw that away) and drain off the water.  Spread them out on a clean towel or paper towel to dry and they're ready to save for next year's planting or roast.
Step 4 - Cooking the pumpkin
There are several ways to cook the pumpkin; just choose use your preferred method.  The easiest for most people is the microwave, so I'll describe that.  But there are good arguments in favor of using a pressure cooker, steaming on the stovetop or baking in the oven.  These will be described at the end if you prefer to use one of those methods.
Put it in a microwaveable bowl.
Remove the stem, and put the pumpkin into a microwaveable.  You may need to cut the pumpkin further to make it fit.  The fewer the number of pieces, the easier it will to scoop out the cooked pumpkin afterwards.
Put a couple of inches of water in the bowl, cover it, and put in the microwave.
Step 5 - Cook the pumpkin until soft
Cook for 15 minutes on high, check to see if it is soft; then repeat in smaller increments of time until it is soft enough to scoop the pumpkin ‘meat’ out.  Normally it takes 20 or 30 minutes in total.
Note: You can also cook it on the stovetop; it takes about the same length of time in a steamer.  Use a double pot steamer, but you could use an ordinary large pot with a steamer basket inside it!
Step 6 - Scoop out the cooked pumpkin
Whether you cook the pumpkin on the stove, microwave, or even the oven, once it is cooked until it is soft; it is easy to scoop out the ‘meat’ with a broad, smooth spoon (such as a tablespoon).  Use the spoon to gently lift and scoop the cooked pumpkin out of the skin.  It should separate easily and in fairly large chucks, if the pumpkin is cooked enough.  Many times the skin or rind will simply lift off with your fingers.
Note: there are many varieties of pumpkin and some make better pies than others (due to sugar content, flavor, texture and water content.  Drier, sweeter, fine-grained pies; the small (8" diameter) ones called "pie pumpkins" are best.  If your pumpkin is watery (there should not be any free water) you may want to let it sit for 30 minutes and then pour off any free water. That will help prevent your pie from being too watery!
Tip:  To eliminate watery pumpkin you can strain the pureed pumpkin through a cloth overnight.  If you use frozen pumpkin you can do the same again as it thaws out.  It works great.
Step 7 - Puree the pumpkin
To get a nice, smooth consistency use a hand blender but a regular blender works, too.  Even a hand mixer with time and patience can do the trick.  With the hand blender, it takes 2 or 3 minutes.
Step 8 - Done with the pumpkin!
The pumpkin is now cooked and ready for the pie recipe.
It's ready to pop in the fridge or freezer (just pack it in containers, like Ziploc bags or plastic containers, exclude as much air as you can, and freeze it!)
Note:  The USDA has revised their recommendations and now advise against canning.  They say that a pumpkin puree (containing sugar or not) is too dense for the heat to reach the center while processing, rendering the product unsafe.
Alternative Cooking methods for step 4
If you prefer another method, try one of these:
Stovetop steaming – Place your steaming basket or grid in the bottom of a large pot.  Put enough water so it won’t boil dry in 20 minutes and yet is not so high that the pumpkin is touching the water.  You may need to add more water during the cooking.  Add the pumpkin prepared in step 3. The cooking time is only between 8 - 12 minutes and the pumpkin literally falls off the skin.
Pressure cooker – Place your grid in the bottom of the pressure cooker.  If your pressure cooker came with directions then follow those for pumpkin and/or winter squash.  If you’ve long since lost the directions, try this:  add enough water to just touch the bottom of the grid or shelf on which you will place the pumpkin.  Add the pumpkin prepared in step 3, put the lid with the gasket, the weight and anything else your cooker requires in place, and turn the heat on high. Once it starts hissing, turn it to medium or medium high.  The cooking time should only be about 10 minutes, and the pumpkin should literally fall out of its skin.
Oven – You can also bake the prepared pumpkin in the oven just like a butternut squash.  This method takes the longest.  Put the prepared pumpkin in an ovenproof container (with a lid), add about 3 cups of water to help prevent it from drying out and place it in the oven at 350°F. It normally takes about 45 minutes to an hour; test it periodically by sticking it with a fork to see if it is soft!

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