Cooking with Pumpkins

How to Puree Pumpkins
Pumpkin Pickles
Canned Pumpkin Bread
Swiss-Style Pumpkin
How to Preserve Pumpkin Seeds

Gail Damerow pays the Jack o’ Lantern due respect in her thorough book about growing and using pumpkins, entitled The Perfect Pumpkin. She also offers some detailed pointers for those who want to grow a giant pumpkin (an art that has been perfected to the point that the world record jumped from 671 pounds in 1986 to 1,061 pounds in 1996). But the warmest spot in Damerow’s heart is reserved for those often ignored members of the diverse pumpkin family – the varieties that are good to eat


Pumpkins and acorn squash, purchased at the farmers market in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Oct. 9, 2005, photographed at the Grand Canyon

Edible pumpkins have fallen out of favor since World War II, as refrigerators have supplanted roomy root cellars as the place to store fruits and vegetables. Pumpkins bred to be carved into Jack o’ Lanterns on Halloween and discarded a few days later have come to dominate the pumpkin market. But older, heirloom varieties that have been preserved for centuries for their eating qualities are making a comeback, particularly at farm stands and in farmers markets. The best pumpkins for eating, according to Damerow, are the Sugar varieties, which have thick, sweet, smooth-textured, nearly stringless flesh. But a list of more than a hundred varieties of pumpkins in the book includes more than three dozen culinary varieties, with an equal number of ornamental varieties and the rest, minis and giants. The book includes several dozen recipes. Most call for pureed pumpkin.

Puree: Boiled or Baked [top]

The standard method of producing a puree is to boil chunks of pumpkin, peeled either before or after boiling. But that method results in some loss of flavor and nutrients. So Gail Damerow, in The Perfect Pumpkin, proposes a better way, taking a cue from Native Americans, who cultivated pumpkins for 8,000 or 9,000 years before Columbus reached the New World. They would bury pumpkins whole in the hot ashes of a fire. You could do it that way yourself, or more conveniently, use an oven. “Baking a whole pumpkin will give you drier meat, which saves you time simmering off liquid if your ultimate goal is to make a pie,” she explains.

To bake a pumpkin, stab it in at least six places to release steam. Place it in a pan with some water in the bottom and bake at 350 degrees until the pumpkin is soft enough that you can depress the shell with a poke of the finger. Then let it cool, remove the seeds and scrape out the soft flesh.

Damerow recommends making more puree than a recipe calls for so that you can enjoy some of it on the spot, straight and hot, with melted butter and perhaps a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Pumpkin Pickles [top]

2 medium pie pumpkins, cut, cored, peeled and diced (about 7 cups pumpkin cubes)
2 sticks cinnamon
15 cloves
2 1/3 cups 4% vinegar
2 1/3 cups sugar

1. Steam the pumpkin cubes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Put the spices in a tea ball. Simmer them with the vinegar and sugar for 15 minutes.

3. Simmer the pumpkin cubes in this syrup for 3 minutes. Set aside for 24 hours.

4. Start water boiling in a canner. Heat the pumpkin/syrup mix and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the spices and pack into 7 ½-pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.

5. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, counting from when the water returns to a full boil.

Canned Pumpkin Bread [top]

2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
2/3 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 F.

2. Cream together the shortening and sugar.

3. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin and water.

4. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the pumpkin mixture, along with the nuts, if desired

5. Pour the batter into clean, greased canning jars, filling them half full. Bake in jars without lids for about 25 minutes, or until the bread rises and pulls away from the sides of the jars.

6. When the bread is done, remove 1 jar at a time from the oven, clean its rim, and firmly screw on a 2-piece canning lid. Let the jars cool on the counter away from drafts. You can tell each jar has become vacuum-sealed when its dome is sucked downward at the center during cooling. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Source: Stonycreek Farm, Noblesville, Indiana

Swiss-Style Pumpkin [top]

3 cups raw pumpkin, sliced
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup milk
1 tsp salt
dash cayenne
¼ tsp dry mustard
½ cup shredded Swiss cheese
Parmesan cheese

1. Saute the pumpkin in the butter until tender. Remove to a serving dish.

2. In remaining liquid in pan, combine the eggs, milk, spices, and Swiss cheese. Heat until the cheese melts.

3. Pour the cheese mix over pumpkin. Top with Parmesan.

Preserving Pumpkin Seeds [top]

1. Scoop the seeds from the pumpkin and without washing, spread them out to dry. Pumpkin seeds can be dried at room temperature, in a dehydrator at 115 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 to 2 hours, or in a warm oven for 3 to 4 hours. Stir them frequently to avoid scorching. When they are dry, separate the fiber from the seeds – try rubbing them between your hands – and, in a colander, rinse thoroughly with water. Dry the seeds on absorbent paper.

2. If salted pumpkin seeds are desired, dissolve ¼ cup salt in 2 quarts water in a saucepan. Add the seeds; bring to a boil and simmer about 2 hours. Seeds will turn gray. Or salt may be omitted in the cooking water. Drain the seeds and dry them well on absorbent paper.

3. In a bowl, mix 2 cups of seeds with 1 or 2 tablespoons of melted butter or oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoons of regular, garlic or onion salt. Or experiment with your family’s favorite spice or flavoring.

4. To roast, spread the seeds in a shallow baking pan in a preheated 250 degree oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Cool and seal in an airtight container for 1 to 2 weeks. For longer storage, the seeds may be frozen.