Sugar pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) serves as a foundation to most of the fall lineup at our house. Outside of the obvious pumpkin pie [recipe to follow] sugar pumpkins can be used for most courses before dessert right up to appetizers. Be sure to seek out the smaller sugar pumpkin varieties rather than larger field pumpkins which can be too stringy for good puree. Pumpkin makes great soup for cold evenings. Make pan dulce empanadas or pumpkin squares as treats. Pumpkin can be used anywhere you might use other varieties of squash as a side dish for fall roasts or winter stews. For that matter you can cube pumpkin and add it to stews. Pumpkin bread is also ridiculously simple to make and falsely impress your friends. Canned pumpkin is fine in a pinch but the processing seems to impart an off taste to the puree. It’s just so easy to prepare your own pumpkin puree.
Take a bunch of sugar pumpkins and one or two small but able children and spread newspaper out on a wide table. Put good music on the stereo and locate appropriate hats. Preheat the oven to moderate and halve the pumpkins with the largest knife in the house. Do not let the children play with the knives. After splitting each pumpkin, give the children spoons and show them how to remove the seeds. Reserve seeds. Now, either (i) just flip the halves over on a buttered baking sheet and roast them until soft or (ii) first peel the skins, quarter them and bake in a wide, shallow baking pan half filled with water and covered with foil until soft. I can’t say one method results in any better or worse puree – pick one and go with it. Spread the seeds evenly on a flat baking sheet and salt liberally. Roast the seeds along with the pumpkin until the seeds start to give off a full toasted aroma. Don’t burn them. Let seeds cool while pumpkin is baking then instruct children on eating pumpkin seeds and spitting shells.
After the pumpkins are baked sufficiently, let them cool until you can handle them. If you opted for method (i), them peel the halves and place the flesh in a big bowl. The quarters from method (ii) can just go straight into the bowl. Have the children mash the pumpkin into a puree with a potato masher or other tool (large garden spade is excellent if you’re making more than 100 pounds of puree). Place the mashed puree into a large caldron suspended over a bowl and place the whole shebang into the icebox overnight so the excess moisture can drain out of the puree.
When it’s drained, store the puree in zip lock bags in the freezer until you need it.
All you have to do is spit to find a pie recipe. Go find one and use it as a starting point only. Ignore recipe ingredients that include “sweetened condensed milk.” It is Satan’s breast milk. If you see cans of this in your grocery store, very carefully remove as many as possible and move them to the pet food section behind the large bags of dry dog food. Substitute heavy cream and a little more sugar.
Use your favorite pastry shell recipe and pre-bake the shells just enough to stand up to the filling. For the filling, substitute fresh grated ginger for the dry stuff and stay away from anything labeled “pumpkin pie seasoning.” If this is overwhelming, and you cannot locate a pie recipe, let me know and I’ll take you by the hand and Helen Keller you through the process.