The weather is crisp and cold, and winter projects are in the air. I’m as happy as the squirrels hiding their acorns as I put up my pumpkins for the winter.
Part of sustainability on the farm is to feed the family off the bountiful harvest, or feed the family first and then share with the community at large, which ever is the case. We fought a valiant war over the pumpkins this year with a mighty foe…the squash bug…and we lost. So we didn’t have enough to take to market but we did have just enough to put up for winter use.
Here are some tips on how to process your pumpkins or winter squash if they’re not soft from participating in front porch flower arrangements. This is a great project to share with children at home or even as a science project for the classroom.
This year, we grew pie pumpkins and left them in the field until after the first frost. You can leave them until the vines are dead in the garden to cure or bring them in as long as they cure for at least two weeks. This allows the pulp to dry and makes the seed harvest a little easier. I’ve found it’s even easier after a light freeze…the seeds seem to turn loose of the pulp inside without too much effort but it’s still wet and slippery in the process so let an adult handle the knife if you’re doing this with the kiddos.
Remove the stem and start cutting the pumpkin in small sections and remove the seeds and pulp. Peel and cut into uniform pieces like you do potatoes to cook. At this point you can wash the cubes and let them dry, then freeze in small packages for hardy winter soups, or proceed to process for other recipes.
If you want to make pies, cookies, cakes or butters, put the cubes in a pan with just enough water on the bottom to keep the pumpkin from scorching while it cooks and releases its liquids. When the pumpkin is tender to a fork, remove and cool. At this point you can puree with a blender, food processor or colander. It’s all fun and a matter of preference.
You may need to further cook the puree to reduce the water content on very low heat depending on how much liquid you need for what you’re making. I use a colander again after I puree to let all the water drain overnight.
From here it’s all an adventure! You can freeze or can the puree in small portions for soups, pies or my favorite…pumpkin butter. You’ll find that you may need to cook your pies a little longer as your homemade puree will have more liquid than pumpkin bought in a can.
Now you have seeds to save or dry for a savory snack. Wash all the pulp from the seeds and drain well. Lay them out on a few clean coffee filters and let dry for a week or two. Now you can place in a mason jar for next year’s planting or roast for snacking.
So what’s left? The peels! You can feed your worm bin, chickens or compost pile, or use as a vegetable filling in doggie cookies. Nothing goes to waste.
If you need some inspiration on what to make with your puree, here’s my recipe for pumpkin butter. Enjoy!
Makes 1 pint
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
1 lb pie pumpkin, peeled and cubed or 1 (15-oz) can pumpkin (not pie mix)
1/2 cup water or apple juice
1/2 to 1 cup sugar or honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
Place pumpkin and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the pumpkin has broken down. Strain through a sieve or food mill. If using canned pumpkin, omit this step and pick up below.
Combine pumpkin puree with sugar and spices, and choose one of the following cooking methods.
1. Slow Cooker: Place sweetened pulp in a slow cooker with lid partially off to let steam escape. Set on low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-12 hours or overnight, or until thick enough so the butter doesn’t run off a spoon when turned upside down.
2. Microwave: Place sweetened pulp in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 20 minutes at a time, stirring frequently until thick enough so the butter doesn’t run off a spoon when turned upside down.
3. Stovetop: Place sweetened pulp in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 1-2 hours or until thick enough so the butter doesn’t run off a spoon when turned upside down.
4. Oven: Heat oven to 250 degrees. Place sweetened pulp in a heatproof casserole dish or roaster. Bake, stirring only occasionally, for 1-3 hours or until thick enough so the butter doesn’t run off a spoon when turned upside down.
Place hot butter in hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Cover with hot sterilized lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to counter and allow to cool before storing in a cool, dry, dark place.
If you don’t process in a water bath, the butter can be kept refrigerated for up to three weeks or frozen for up to one year.