This edition of Frugal Friday might be cheating. A little. Though you too can put up the equivalent of 30 cans of pumpkin puree for a very small outlay of cash.
How much did my 60 cups of pumpkin cost me?
Zero. Zip. Nada. No, seriously.
After Halloween, I was able to cart off fourteen pumpkins from a nursery that wasn’t going to be able to sell them. They would have thrown them out, and I think it was with slight bemusement that they were happy to turn them over to me. Especially if you have a good relationship with a nursery near you, this is a great way to get pumpkins that are still perfectly good and ready for cooking with. You can get the big jack-o-lantern pumpkins, but the smaller, sugar pumpkins taste better. Still, free pumpkins are free pumpkins. Even if you can’t score a trunkful of free pumpkins, frequently around that time of year they are available for very little. And if you have the space in your yard to grow them, this is a great way to put them up for the year, especially if you grow more than you can eat over the winter. Since you can’t safely can pumpkin puree, this is a good alternative.
Pumpkins also keep very well if they are whole, unblemished (no soft spots or holes) and kept cool, like in a shed or basement. Because of the time hungry nature of this project, I only got through all of my pumpkins last week. But these are a great keeping squash, so all of them were still in good shape. I do think that the sugar pumpkins keep longer than the jack-o-lantern pumpkins, however.
Pumpkin to puree is a bit of an all day affair. The nice thing is that its done in stages and you have plenty of time to do other things while each stage is getting its pumpkin on. There are a half dozen different ways to get from pumpkin to pie (or cookies or butter, or whatever), and this is just the way I’ve found works for me.
1. Rinse off your pumpkins. Since the whole thing is going in the oven, you don’t want to field mud in there with it. Preheat your oven to 325. Using a very sharp, heavy bladed knife, cut the pumpkins in half. You can go any direction, so long as the halves are fairly even. Scoop out the insides (save the seeds because spiced and baked they are awesome snacks) and scrape as much of the stringy innards out as possible, but don’t go nuts. Its all going to get pureed anyway. Place the pumpkins, cut side down, on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. I do batches of 3-4 pumpkins at a time, it’s not worth it to do just one if you have a bunch to work with.
2. Bake for 1 1/2-2 hours. The pumpkin should be soft, yielding easily to a fork, and the top may have collapsed in. This is good. The softer the pumpkin is, the easier it is to work with. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely for several hours.
3. Turn pumpkins over and scoop out the flesh in to a large bowl. This is a good place to stop if you want to split up the work between two days. Just cover the bowl and put in the fridge until you are ready to go back to it tomorrow.
4. If you prefer coarsely mashed pumpkin, simply use a potato masher to mash it up. Otherwise, working in batches, puree the pumpkin in a blender. If the pumpkin is too thick, try adding a tablespoon or two of water as you are pureeing. Pack in to freezer bags, size of your choice. Label with the date, product and measurement with a sharpie marker. Flattened neatly, more than a dozen bags can fit in a single stack in your freezer.
I like to pack these in sandwhich (pint) sized freezer bags, in measurements of two cups per bag. Many pumpkin recipes call for a can of pumpkin, and that way I know that each bag is approximately equal to a can. Well sealed and frozen, these keep for a year in your freezer. They can be moved to the fridge to thaw the night before you need them. I use them for pumpkin bread, pies, cookies, pumpkin butter, stirred in to soup broth towards the end of cooking and baby food. They can be used in any recipe that calls for pureed pumpkin. The same process can be used for any other winter squash varieties as well.
So, I suppose you are asking- why bother? Cans of pumpkin aren’t that expensive, and who really uses 30 cans of pumpkin in a year? Honestly, before I started doing this, I certainly didn’t use that much pumpkin around the house. But pumpkin is a fantastic food, full of vitamin A and other nutrients, and is a great way to boost nutritional content in a variety of foods. We also just flat out love the taste of pumpkin, and this way, we have it around all year round. The taste of my own pumpkin puree knocks the pants off of the pumpkin in the cans. And who can say no to a baby who just can’t seem to get enough plain, fresh pumpkin?