Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin shortage? Not in my house.

Apparently there's a canned pumpkin shortage this year


at least, that's what I've read in the news. I live in farm country and with two farms where I can buy all manner of squash, not to mention the many farmer's markets nearby, I have no idea what they are talking about. I tend to be suspicious about this type of news article anyway. I've seen displays of canned pumpkin in every supermarket I've been in in the last week. I think the people that sell canned pumpkin manufacture this sort of thing to drive sales. But I'm suspicious like that.

Not to worry, in my household I like to be prepared. If the occasion comes up that I need to make ten pumpkin pies at once, I will be ready. As I type, there are six adorable sugar pumpkins roasting in my oven. I don't wait for someone to can it for me and stick a label on it. I make my own. The process is ridiculously simple and if you are one to attempt silly things like side by side comparisons (who does that? that's why I go online...) you will know that the taste of a pie made with pumpkin pureed at home is superior to the same pie made with canned puree. Although, I would be a liar if I said I never buy canned pumpkin, it will do in a pinch.

Now, to make that puree...

You need sugar pumpkins or any other small, sweet pumpkin, I like to get my pumpkins from farms or farmer's markets because they always have a wide variety of heirloom pumpkins such as the Jarrahdale, Cinderella, or Lumina. I often mix more than one variety if I am doing a large batch of puree.

I give my pumpkins a quick wash, pierce them a few times with a sharp paring knife, and place them in a 375 degree oven on a cookie sheet for an hour or so. You want them to be cooked until a knife slides in easily, like a knife through soft butter.

Take the pumpkins out and let them cool until you can tolerate working on them. I'm impatient and I don't mind burning my fingers (well, I do but I can take it) so I rarely wait more than half an hour. An hour is probably ideal. Slice your pumpkin in half and use a spoon to carefully scrape out the seeds and stringy bits. Use the spoon to scrape the flesh out of the skin (at this point the skin often peels right off) and put the pumpkin chunks into a food processor. I would think you can use a hand mixer but the puree will not be as smooth and you want silky smooth puree here.

Blitz the pumpkin in the food processor until perfectly smooth, depending on the moistness of your pumpkin you may need to add a tablespoon of water or so. No worries, you'll be draining the whole mess later. Keep going until you have all of your pumpkins processed. Since it's a pretty messy job, I usually aim to make large amounts at a time. This time I did six pumpkins.

Line a colander with cheese cloth or (my favorite) paper towels and place the colander in a larger bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or another paper towel and leave it in the fridge for a while. I like to leave mine over night.

The next day dump out your water and store via your favorite method. If it will be used reasonably quickly (say, within a week) I would store it in the fridge in an airtight container. I usually pack one cup at a time into ziplock sandwich bags, double the bag, press out the air and smooth flat. Then I lay them all on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen at which time you can place them however you wish. My six pumpkins yielded eight cups of puree.

I love pumpkin puree because it's crazy good for you with lots of antioxidants and fiber and it gives tremendous moisture to baked goods. Do not limit yourself to pumpkin pie (although it wouldn't be a bad thing if you did, it's my favorite pie) you can use it in quick bread, muffins, yeasted bread, cookies, soup, risotto, smoothies, pancake and as I found out recently- fudge! Pumpkin fudge is to die for. I made a promise to myself not to make it again, it's that good...and I ate *that* much.

Happy Fall!

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