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The crisp autumn air can mean only one thing here Up North–its time for pumpkins!  If you’ve happened around any food blogs lately, I’m sure that you’ve noticed the proliferation of all things pumpkin. From pumpkin pie baked oatmeal, to pumpkin filled cannoli cones, to peanut butter pumpkin dog treats, pumpkin is the ingredient of choice as of late.

Of course I had to join all of the pumpkin reindeer games.  But before we delve into a new recipe that I’ve been working on, let’s take a few minutes to look at pumpkin as an ingredient.  Most recipes using pumpkin as an ingredient call for pumpkin puree, as opposed to the whole squash. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn by saying that most of us probably get our pumpkin puree from the same source.

That's the one!

I’m not too proud to say that 9.5 times out of 10, when a recipe calls for pumpkin puree, I reach for a can of Libby’s.  Last year, however, less than ideal growing conditions caused a nationwide shortage of canned pumpkin in the fall.  As in, I couldn’t find a can of Libby’s if my life depended on it, because there just weren’t any to be found.  Kind of a conundrum when your dish to pass at Thanksgiving is supposed to be a pumpkin cheesecake, eh?

I was certain that my extended family would surely perish if I didn’t arrive on Thanksgiving with the oft requested pumpkin cheesecake in hand.  In fact, I’m not totally sure that I would be allowed on the premises without it.

I was lamenting the scarcity of canned pumpkin while talking to my mom on the phone one night, when she stated the obvious in a way that only mothers can:

Why don’t you just make your own pumpkin puree?

Obviously.  Then she proceeded to tell me not only how to make homemade pumpkin puree, but how to do so in under 20 minutes in the microwave.  And to top it off, the method works for pretty much any small autumn squash! Genius.

Armed with my mom’s wisdom, I took the proverbial bull by the horns and made my own pumpkin puree.  I may not have been able to find canned pumpkin on the store shelves, but I was certainly able to source actual pie pumpkins.

After all, pie pumpkins and squash are my fall decor of choice!  Pretty and edible. Win-win.

So if your local market is out of canned pumpkin puree, or if you want to make your own just to say that you did it, give this easy method a try.

To Make Homemade Pumpkin Puree:

First, select a candidate from your autumn decor, or buy a pie pumpkin at a farm or grocery store.  Pie pumpkins are much smaller than the typical pumpkin used for Jack-o-Lanterns; they are about 6 inches in diameter, much sweeter, and far less stringier than their larger cousins. I look for pie pumpkins (also called sugar pumpkins) that are about twice the diameter of a softball.

If you snatch a pumpkin from your own harvest display, be sure to rearrange the remaining “decorations” so that no one misses it.

Wash the outside of the pumpkin before piercing the skin 8 to 10 times with a sharp knife.  The outer skin of the pumpkin is pretty tough, so using a sharp knife is key. You don’t have to get crazy aggressive and use a big ol’ chef knife.  Any sharp knife that capable of making 1/4 inch cuts through the tough skin will do.

Place the pierced pumpkin in a shallow bowl of microwave safe baking dish, then pop it in the microwave. I have a 2450 MHz microwave–kind of middle of the road as far as microwaves go. I realize that microwaves cook differently depending on the wattage, so times may need to be adjusted based on your microwave.  For the purpose of illustration, I will use the actual times required with my appliance.

Heat the pumpkin on 100% power for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, the skin of the pumpkin should be easily pierced with a fork, which is how to tell when its ready to be cut open.

Another good indicator is that the stem will come off easily when touched.

Once the outer skin is soft, cut along the top around the stem area, and remove the top of the pumpkin. Then, cut the squash into quarters. Be careful! It’ll be a little warm.

While the outer skin has softened significantly, the inner flesh of the pumpkin should still be pretty firm, making it easy to scrape out the seeds and stringy-things from the inside without losing any of the good stuff.

Once the seeds and connective strings have been removed, return the pumpkin quarters back to the bowl, and cover them with a damp paper towel.  The damp paper towel will help to keep the pumpkin flesh moist during the second go ’round in the microwave.  Heat the quarters for 4 to 5 more minutes on 100% power, or until the flesh is very soft.

At this point the pumpkin is so hot that wearing rubber gloves to handle it is a good idea. Carefully peel away the skin with your fingers or scrape the flesh away from the skin with a spoon.  If you are like me, you’ll peel that hot skin off with your bare hands, and only think of the rubber gloves after you’ve singed the fingerprints right off the tips of your fingers.  Don’t be like me.  Wear gloves.

Once the pumpkin flesh has been removed from the skin, its time to get to mashing it.  Grab a potato masher and go. to. town.  You’ll have to break out a little elbow grease to transform the cooked pumpkin into a puree. Don’t worry though–it only takes a minute or two.

Or you can take the easy way out, and run the pumpkin through a food processor for less than a minute to puree it.

Total time from whole pie pumpkin to pumpkin puree = 15 minutes.

Once the pumpkin is pureed, let it cool, then it’s ready to be used in a favorite recipe.  Cooled puree can be stored in a airtight container in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen in a freezer container for up to two months.

 

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