Choosing the Best Pumpkin for Cooking
To find the best pumpkins for your Fall recipes, head to your nearest pumpkin patch, farm, or Farmer’s Market. Let someone in charge know when you arrive that you’re looking for pumpkins to cook with – they’ll be happy to assist you in finding the perfect pumpkins for your table.
The pumpkins traditionally used for jack-o-lanterns aren’t good for harvesting for recipes. Instead, choose smaller pumpkins that are a dark orange color, or hunt for sweetmeat pumpkins that are larger but light green in color instead of the traditional orange. Farms or pumpkin patches usually have these kinds of pumpkins separated from the larger varieties, so you may need to ask where they are.
Once you’ve found the selection of pumpkins that are good for cooking with, the choice comes down to personal preference. If you’ve not cooked with pumpkin before, you might want to start with one small pumpkin. However, if you’re experienced, you may want to try a different variety or choose a couple of different kinds to experiment with in your recipes.
Harvesting a Pumpkin
Once you have your pumpkins in the kitchen, it’s time to harvest the pumpkin meat for use now and later. The “meat” is the part of the pumpkin used for cooking, and is located between the goopy seeds and the rind. In order to use it in recipes, it needs to be baked.
First, cut the pumpkin in half or in fourths – the size of your pumpkin and baking pan will help you decide. Scrape out the goopy seeds and set them aside for later roasting.
Place the pumpkin pieces into a large enough pan for a comfortable – even snug – fit. I tend to use my large roasting pan. Nestle the pumpkin in your pan, and fill the bottom with about three cups of water. Put the lid on top and bake.
Baking the Pumpkin
Generally, you can bake pumpkin at 350 degrees, but the time it takes to soften the meat will depend on its size. Start by setting the timer for 30 minute intervals, checking the meat with a fork to see if it’s ready to scrape out. If your pumpkin is smaller in size, a half hour may be all you need – for larger pumpkins, however, you’ll need more time.
Once soft and ready to scrape, take the pumpkins out of the oven and let them cool slightly. Use a wide ice cream scoop to dig the meat out from the rind. Use a food processor, a blender, or a high-powered electric mixer with a whisker to puree the pumpkin meat to use in recipes.
To preserve for later use, package the pumpkin puree in two-cup portions and freeze. Then you can enjoy delicious pumpkin recipes all year long!
Kelly Wilson loves to cook with the freshest fruits and vegetables from her nearby farm. For more tips on how wholesome food effects good dental health, visit Dr. Brett Johnson, an Oregon City dentist.