Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nov 22: A Pumpkin Gave Its Life for this Post

I'm really behind this year. Of course, I say that every year the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday because I can cook an obscene amount of food and invite as many people as my house will hold, and we can indulge in friendship and good food all day and into the night. Of course we turn around and do it again a few weeks later for Christmas, but there's such a big difference between a day of gratitude and a day of gluttitude.*

This year our dinner feels even more special than usual. I butchered turkeys this year for the first time, and I know my bird had an ideal life on the farm before she gave her life for our dinner (and leftovers and carcass soup). I'll be using eggs from the farm, and raw milk from my herd share, and pumpkins from a pumpkin farm stand run by one of Elvira's friends from high school.

I always make my pumpkin pies from scratch, with fresh pumpkins. I remember the first year I wanted to do it. LtColEx and I had been married maybe a year or two, so I was 19 or 20. I asked my grandma to show me how to make the pumpkin puree for fresh pies. And to my surprise, she refused. "No," she said. "I will not cook a pumpkin with you."

What? This is my grandmother who taught me how to knit, crochet, garden, pluck chickens, make pie crust and cinnamon rolls, and fresh whipped cream. This is the grandmother who flew all the way to Sacramento from Iowa holding a paper bag full of fresh dill from her garden so she could teach me how to make dill pickles while she visited. She got a lot of funny looks when she got off the plane holding a paper bag with green herbs flopping out of the top. She knew how to do everything herself, and I wanted to know too.

"Why not? Don't you know how?"
"Of course I know how. I did it for years. And then they started selling it cans and I swore I'd never do it again. I don't want to mess with stringy, slimy pumpkin when I can buy it in a can."
"You're serious? You won't even tell me how to do it?"
"No, buy it in a can and be happy with it." And that was that.

Except that I went to the library and found a book that showed me how to do it. And I've done it every year since, because once you've eaten a fresh pumpkin pie, canned pumpkin is no longer palatable. And a pie from the grocery store is simply a plastic substitution.

It's really not that hard. My grandma didn't have a food processor, and she probably only had access to field pumpkins, the kind you make jack-o-lanterns with. Although I've used both, I try to buy sugar pumpkins that aren't as wet and stringy.

So if you want to make your own real pumpkin pies, here's how you do it. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Then prepare the pumpkin. First cut it in half and slip the seeds out of the pulp. You can just drag them out with your fingers into a colander. Wash and then put them aside.

Scrape out the pulp and cut the pumpkin into slices and then pieces. Put the pieces into a big pot, cover with water and boil them until they're soft through. They'll look like this.

Dump the pieces into a colander and let them drain and cool for 20 minutes or so.

In the meantime, pour some olive oil on a baking sheet. Add the pumpkin seeds and spread them around so they're mostly in one layer. Bake the seeds for 10 minutes or so. Check them. If they're getting brown, stir them around and cook another couple of minutes. If they're already too brown, take them out. Give them a stir, and then season them with whatever you like. I just use salt, but you can sprinkle on garlic salt, rosemary, cayenne, whatever flavor you want. If you're going to put them in a covered container, let them cool completely.

Now back to the pumpkin puree. When the chunks are cool enough to handle, scrape the meat off each one with a tablespoon into a bowl. If your pumpkin is soft enough, you can just mush it up and use it that way. If you used a stringier pumpkin or didn't cook it as long, run it through the food processor to puree the lumps out of it. A few lumps don't hurt though and actually give better flavor.

That's it! Store the puree in the refrigerator in a sealed bowl if you're going to use it within a week. If not, freeze it in baggies in whatever size your recipe calls for.

Try it! I'll bet you won't eat canned pumpkin again. I'll take some photos of the pies tomorrow or Thursday, but it's the taste that makes the difference.

Tonight I'm straining a last batch of milk licker. I probably won't make any more of that. All my grocery shopping is done, so I don't have to brave another store tomorrow. I bought what I could at the commissary yesterday; Elvira and I finished up today at a local chain store.

I thought I might buy a Honey-Baked ham like I have in years past. I even had a $5.00 coupon. But when I asked the girl there how much an 8-pound ham was, and she told me $58.76, I decided I could do better. As I was looking through the spiral-cut hams at the store today, I saw one that was marked $4.51. I looked again. I had Elvira check it. Yep, in a case of hams that cost $1.79/pound, $15-18 apiece, I'd found one that must have been marked wrong. I fully expected to be charged the right price when I checked out, but nope. Our big ham only cost $4.51. I really love a bargain.

So it's almost midnight and I have cleaning to do yet. I'm starting to get excited .... OK, I'm already excited. I can't wait to say those magic words: Let's eat!

Go make your own pumpkin puree. Do it now.

* We keep it a secret, but all English teachers make up words sometimes. That's really how words are added to the English language.


  1. You are totally entitled to make up your own words...I happen to like gluttitude quite a lot. I should write my pumpkin pie story. It is nothing like your pumpkin pie story, but it's amusing I guess. Happy cooking. :)

  2. I used to have a friend I made up words with. It was quite silly and fun.

    You should write your pumpkin pie story, and I'd love to read it. But you needed to write other stories tonight, and I'm grateful for those stories too.

    I wish you could be here and spend Thanksgiving with us. <3

  3. Wait!

    What do you mean? No more milk licker!

    That was good stuff!

  4. I agree with you about the taste of pie made from fresh vs. canned pumpkin -- I just prepped my second pumpkin yesterday, but rather than boiling the flesh, I prefer to roast the pumpkin at about 420 for 30 or 40 minutes, however long is necessary for it to get nice and soft. I let it cool, and then pull off the skin, and mash the pumpkin up with my hands. Mmm. :) (Then I drop the temp to 320 and roast the seeds -- I have to do it at the lower temp, 'cause otherwise I tend to get scorched seeds!) So nice to have all that pulp, and not just for pie!

    So glad to have found your blog --

  5. Eldest son competed in a punkin chuckin' contest for his physics class a few weeks back, using 2 lb. pumpkins. Afterwards he came home with 7 or 8 of them, said that the kids were just gonna throw them in the trash. Don't know if I'll make pie (I was more thinking of stew) but now I know where to look for instructions!

  6. I've got a big jar in the refrigerator, Diplomat. I can probably be coaxed into making more when that's gone.

  7. Welcome, Jen. I have roasted the pumpkins before too. I can't tell much difference in the pies either way. Maybe I need to do an experiment and find out for sure though. That would be tasty! :-)

  8. Leslie, stuffed pumpkin is good too. I just use a mixture of ground beef, rice, eggs, tomatoes, herbs. You could use almost anything though. Bake with some water in the bottom of the pan about an hour and a half at 350. It's a cool presentation.

  9. I've got a stuffed pumpkin recipe that uses risotto as stuffing but it takes forever. Haven't cooked much since C discovered that I hate cooking (he loves it) but the memory of that stuffed pumpkin may be enough for me to reconsider.

  10. BTW I doubt I'll use all the pumpkins before Christmas so if you need some for pies, let me know.

  11. That does sound like a complicated recipe, Leslie, but a good one. I saw a photo of a baked pumpkin with a cornucopia carved into just the skin. Some people have too much time.

    I may take you up on a couple of pumpkins.