I think it was about this time of year two years ago when I came dangerously close to child abuse. I had just made a pumpkin pie and was certain that my picky young son would love it, when instead he clamped his mouth shut tight and muttered, “I don’t like it!”. I was sure my then 3-year-old didn’t know what he was missing. I instructed my husband to hold his arms down while I force fed a spoonful of creamy pumpkin filling into his mouth. Once I finally got it past his screaming and wiggling self, “I DO like it!” he beamed emphatically, and he then demolished the rest of the slice that sat on his plate. I suspect he's forgotten my frustrated force-feeding, but hasn't forgot that he loves pumpkin. Ever since that traumatic day, he asks for a number of pumpkin treats on a regular basis.
Why is it that we sometimes need extreme coaxing to try new foods? While I never remember a time that I didn’t absolutely love pumpkin, I did need a bit of a push to preserve a little of the autumnal pumpkin harvest myself. Last year, you may remember there was a pumpkin shortage. Yes, such a thing existed... and when I first heard about it, I did panic a little. Pumpkin is one of the few canned items I purchase, and some that I never feel really “bad” about buying since home canning of pumpkin puree is never recommended - the puree is too dense to be certain that the heat can successfully penetrate it.
Because I felt I finally had cause to, last year I cooked down several pie pumpkins on the stove top, blended them into puree, and stashed it in the freezer. However, today I decided on a different initial approach: roasting. It was quite a bit less work, including the time consuming labor of peeling the pumpkins, which has never been a favorite task of mine. My quality time spent with just a few orange friends will make me all the more thankful this Winter, when nothing seems to warm you like the smell of something pumpkin baking in the oven.
To roast them, you simply cut pie pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds (save them if you like roasted pumpkin seeds), and pop them into a 400 degree oven until they are easily pierced with a knife, 30-45 minutes. Let them cool enough so that they are easy to handle, then use a large metal spoon to scoop out their innards. You can then puree the roasted pumpkin flesh using a good blender, a food processor, even an immersion blender if you are patient. I’m lucky to have a VitaMix, and the pumpkin puree was absolutely smooth. I portioned it into zip top bags in 15 ounce amounts, since that is a can’s worth of pumpkin, and now I have them stored in the deep freeze.
To test a pumpkin's doneness, make sure a sharp knife can easily slide through the thickest part...
Pumpkin puree is really a versatile ingredient that I enjoy throughout all of the cooler months, not just from October to December. I love it in quick breads like this vegan pumpkin coconut bread, or in any number of quick savory soups like this one I just read about today. You can't forget anything reminiscent of pumpkin pie, either. It makes incredible smoothies and can dress up your breakfast pancake or waffle easily. Just today I found the best way to deal with roasting the seeds, if you happen to like them salty and toasted. Boiling the seeds in salted water for 10 minutes prior to roasting is the trick, and I had it done before the pumpkins had even finished roasting! I normally don't care much for pumpkin seeds, they tend to be too pulpy and hard to chew. But boiling them "tenderizes" the tough outer hulls, it's brilliant really.
Growing up in rural communities, we never had childhood field trips to farms like the pumpkin farm I visited with my Kindergartner last week. When we took a walk around the field of pie pumpkins, my son looked for the perfect one to pick himself, so we could roast it for pie. I tried to hide my excitement; a food-centric mama getting the smallest glimpses that her picky progeny may just turn out to love more good, homemade food.