Until very recently, I was under the impression that pumpkin came from a can. I had no idea how to select a fresh pumpkin, how to cook one, or what to do with the pulp. And then I got a couple of fresh pumpkins for free. I couldn’t let them go to waste, so I figured out how to use fresh pumpkin. Here’s what I learned:
Picking a Fresh Pumpkin
When you select a pumpkin, choose one that is most dense. In other words, you want one that is heavier than you expect for its size.
In addition to the weight of the pumpkin, you should check the skin. The best pumpkins are totally firm, like a marble. Soft or squishy spots are already beginning to rot.
Be careful about pumpkins that are mottled with lighter spots. Those spots mean that the pumpkin was frosted or frozen and will likely not be prime for eating. If you were intending to use it for carving or decoration, these pumpkins would be okay, but they will spoil sooner than their unfrosted counterparts.
Look for a sweet, sugar, or cooking pumpkin if you can. They are typically smaller (under 5 pounds) and darker orange than field pumpkins. The big old Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are not the best for eating.
Cooking a Fresh Pumpkin
This part is easy. You have lots of options in terms of cooking the pumpkin. My two favorite methods are baking and microwaving.
Roasting/baking – To roast your pumpkin, wash it well, put it in an oven-safe dish (it might leak while cooking) and stick it in the oven. Really, that’s all there is to it. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and cook it for an hour to an hour and a half, until it’s soft.
Microwaving – Basically the same as roasting. Wash the pumpkin well, put it in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave it in 10-minute increments until it is soft.
Whichever cooking method you choose, please let your pumpkin cool before attempting to use it. When you slice it open, copious amounts of steam will pour out. Please be careful so you don’t get burned!
Preparing the Pumpkin Pulp
Once the pumpkin has cooled, you can cut it in half. If it’s been cooked long enough, it will be easy to cut. Scoop out the seeds and set them aside for roasting later. (I have a link to a great tutorial below.)
Depending on your intended pumpkin recipe, you may need to puree the pumpkin in a blender or food processor. This part can be a little tricky, so work in small amounts and use lots of liquid. If your recipe calls for milk or water, you might want to add it to the blender first, before you put in the pumpkin pulp.
Using the Pumpkin Pulp
You can eat pumpkin, mashed, like you would eat potatoes. Put some butter on it to melt and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar or brown sugar, and it is delightful!
You can freeze your pumpkin in 2 cup portions – that’s how much is in a can of pumpkin puree that you would buy. Use as you like whenever you need it.
Please don’t limit your pumpkin recipes to pie. Why don’t you try these recipes?
- Pumpkin Soup
- Thai-Spiced Pumpkin Soup
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- Making Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Baking with Fresh Pumpkins – a recipe archive at AllRecipes.com
Photo by Nancy Lowrie