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Fear Conquered: Fresh Pumpkin Puree
"Can mom make pumpkin pie now?" I asked my dad. I was 5, still dressed in my homemade Lancelot Halloween costume, and my dad had just blown out the candle in the jack-o-lantern.
Two days earlier, I had made the tenuous connection between the slimy, stringy guts of the pumpkin and the annual Thanksgiving pie my mom made once a year. I can’t take credit for figuring it out on my own. "This is where pumpkin pies come from," my dad told me.
"Nuh-uh," I came back immediately, laughing. "You're teasing."
"No I'm not," my dad said, his face stone serious. I narrowed my eyes and scrutinized him watchfully. "You scoop out the fleshy part of the pumpkin and use it to make pumpkin pie," he went on.
“Nuh-uh,” I tried again, not quite as confidently.
“Yeah-huh,” he came back. And his face was still serious.
|My friend Dan's Jack-o-Lanterns|
So there I stood in my Lancelot costume, bag of candy in hand, ready to cart the jack-o-lantern carcass into my mom's kitchen so she could scoop out the inside and bake pies. But my dad grunted and tilted the jack-o-lantern so I could look inside. Black, sooty, leathery. Nothing like the pale orange from the day before.
"You can't use jack-o-lantern pumpkins for pumpkin pie," my dad said, half smiling as I stared in sadness at the wasted pumpkin innards. "The candle burns the inside."
"Can we buy another pumpkin for pie then?" I pleaded. I wanted pie, dang-namit! (Only I probably didn’t think “dang-namit” then. Or much of anything except how big of a slice I could wrangle. And I know I didn’t think wrangle.)
"They sell pumpkin in cans," my dad explained. "It's much easier and a lot less stringy."
And right then, at the age of 5, the fear of fresh pumpkin purée was born. It’s been alive ever since, fueled year after year by the relentless arbitrary insistence from the pumpkin-pie-maker gods that the pureed slop in a can is the secret to really good pumpkin pie. And if you should timidly suggest using fresh pumpkin, duck and cover:
“Pain in the butt!”
“Doesn’t taste right!”
“Canned is traditional!”
It’s enough to give anyone a pumpkin complex and vow to keep the pumpkin-pie-maker gods happy with the requisite can of pumpkin slop for the making of the annual pumpkin pie. Or you could be like me and avoid pumpkin puree altogether. Let others do the pumpkin-pie making - and blissfully pretend you don’t know you’re eating pie made from a can lined with chemicals like BPA.
Have I preached about BPA before? It’s why I don’t cook or bake from cans...anymore. It’s a long and stale story, it makes me sound like a crazy person, and some people get really irritated when I go on and on about the health implications of ingesting BPA. They call me things. Dog with a bone and such.
But you get it - I don’t like cans.
So when I started drafting a recipe for pumpkin pie last year, I almost bought a can of pumpkin puree. Because of the pumpkin-pie-maker gods. And because I could still see my dad’s half-smile at my foolish notion of using fresh pumpkin from a jack-o-lantern. The foolish boy who thought he could make pumpkin pie without a can.
I don’t like feeling foolish.
But I didn’t buy the can of pumpkin puree, and to this day I’ve never bought a can of the slop. I say slop arbitrarily, just like the pumpkin-pie-maker gods say stringy arbitrarily. I don’t actually know that canned puree is slop - I’ve never seen it. But I do know that fresh pumpkin puree is not stringy and I feel one arbitrary malignment deserves another. (I don’t really believe that, I just thought it sounded dramatic. Until I just bothered to explain it.)
I also can’t tell you fresh pumpkin puree tastes better than canned - I’ve never tried canned. I can’t tell you fresh pumpkin puree isn’t watery because I have no basis for comparison. And I can’t tell you fresh pumpkin isn’t a pain in the butt to make because anything - ANYTHING - is painful compared to the exhaustive labor involved with pressing the button on your electric can opener.
But I can tell you fresh pumpkin puree makes better pumpkin pies. If you believe me. And Boyfriend Javelin. And his family. And his co-workers. And you don’t mind that I’m biased. But you should trust me because the fresh pumpkin puree really does bake up a better pie. Although it might just be the spices.
Because I’ve never tried my pumpkin pie recipe using the canned puree. (See? I was the bigger person and didn’t arbitrarily call it slop.)
I can also assure you that making your own fresh pumpkin puree is easy. I figured out the basics on my first try. Which isn’t very impressive. A monkey (and not even a smart monkey) could be trained to do this. And then the not-so-bright monkey could train an even more not smart monkey to do it. Not that I’m comparing you to a monkey. Gosh, now it sounds like I am. I’m not.
It’s just really easy. You cut a pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, put the halves on a baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes. Then you scoop out the flesh - and puree. It kind of seems wrong to have a recipe for this. And it kind of seems wrong to have written this many words about it. Kind of.
Then again, the fear of fresh pumpkin puree goes deep. So deep, I still sometimes wonder if I should try my pumpkin pie recipe with canned pumpkin. Because the pumpkin-pie-maker gods (and my dad) might be right. They might be silently laughing at my foolishness. Stupid jack-o-lantern kid...
But this is a post about conquering fears. So voila! Fear conquered. Mostly.
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Remove the stem from the pumpkin or butternut squash
Halve the pumpkin or butternut squash (top to bottom)
Scoop out the seeds and pulp
Place halves cut-side-down on baking sheet or tray
Roast in hot oven until easily pierced with fork
Scoop flesh into blender or food processor
Puree until smooth
Cool, then refrigerate or freeze
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Roasted Pumpkin or Butternut Squash Puree
Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Ingredients (2-4 cups puree)
- 1 pie pumpkin, OR
- 1 butternut squash
- Preheat the oven to 400℉ degrees (375℉ for butternut squash)
- Wash the squash and remove the squash stem with your fingers (or a sharp knife for a butternut squash)
- Halve the squash from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds using an ice cream scoop or large spoon (the seeds can be saved for roasting later if desired)
- Place the squash halves cut-side-down on a baking sheet or tray and roast in the oven (25-35 minutes for pumpkin and 35-45 min for squash, depending on size)
- Remove from the oven and let the squash steam cut-side-down on baking sheet for 20 minutes
- Separate the squash flesh from the skin and add the flesh to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (or regular blender); pulse the food processor until the squash is pureed and smooth
- Allow the squash puree to cool to room temperature, then transfer to airtight containers and refrigerate (up to 7 days) or freeze (up to 6 months)
An original recipe by Javelin Warrior. © 2012 Javelin Warrior. All rights reserved.
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Hungry for Tips?
- You know the squash is properly roasted when you can easily piece the skin and flesh of the squash with a fork. Different sized squash will take different amounts of time (and pumpkin takes less time than butternut squash).
- If you roast your pumpkin or squash long enough, the skin will generally easily separate from the flesh of the squash. However, roasting just a little bit longer will result in over-cooked and browned flesh (which mostly affect the color of the puree, not so much the flavor). I often err on the side of under-roasting my squash to avoid excessively browning the flesh.
- Allowing the pumpkin/squash to steam for 20 minutes after it's finished roasting helps to further loosen the skin from the flesh. It also gives the squash a chance to cool so you don't burn your fingers while scooping out the flesh.
- Some water may separate out of the puree when left in the refrigerator or freezer - it's normal and you can easily remix the water back into the puree until smooth
- I use my CorningWare broiler trays when I roast squash because they clean up easily, however you can certainly use a baking sheet instead (although you may want to line the baking sheet with foil if you're concerned about cleanup as the juices from the squash tend to burn). Do NOT use a glass or stoneware baking dish (unless it's broiler-safe) as the the uneven heat and release of liquid from the squash could cause the dish to explode or crack.
- Why butternut squash puree? Honestly, pumpkin is ok, but I LOVE butternut squash. It's sweeter, bolder, and just plain delicious. So sometimes I like to mix pumpkin and butternut squash together. Or just eat the butternut squash on it's own. Like spoon after spoon after spoon.