Halloween’s over and if you live in the US, it’s time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving means, among other things, Pumpkin Pie. I get excited about Pumpkin Pie because it’s something I make for Thanksgiving and don’t think to make any other time of year. Mine are always homemade and sometimes they’re made with my Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree.
No matter what Pumpkin dessert you’re making, one way to up your game is to make your own pumpkin puree. And it is easy! And when I say easy, I mean drop dead simple. Of course, there’s always a few ways to complicate things up, lol, and everyone has their own ways with homemade pumpkin puree, so I’m going to show you some of my tips and tricks. But first, let’s talk about the canned stuff.
About Canned Pumpkin Puree:
Of all the convenience canned products the one I think is the best is pumpkin puree. And when I say pumpkin puree, I mean pumpkin puree not a pumpkin pie filling or mix, which will likely be right next to or very close to the pumpkin puree at your store, maybe with canned pie fillings.
The pumpkin pie filling or mix will have spices and other ingredients in it while the puree, depending on the brand, will usually have just pumpkin. Libby’s, the most famous of the US brands is made from one type of pumpkin, the Dickinson pumpkin. Other brands might have a combination of different pumpkins or a combination of other squashes in addition to the actual pumpkin.
When I buy pumpkin puree, I pick it up during the Holiday sales & I watch for it at a deep discount after the holidays. I shove it in the back corner of my pantry and age it before using. It was a tip from my sister in law, who swears that the canned pumpkin puree tastes best after a year or so, and I agree. I think some of the natural sugars might start to change and mellow with the storage, but I’m no scientist. But enough of canned pumpkin, let’s get back to my Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree.
About Homemade Pumpkin Puree:
When a special holiday like Thanksgiving rolls around, I sometimes skip the canned stuff altogether and make my own pumpkin puree. It might not sound feasible but it’s so low effort that it’s no big whup to whip up your own. Try it just once and you’re going to be a pumpkin puree making fool. Just think of the street cred you’re going to have at Thanksgiving when you get to corner some hapless guest who complimented your pie and explain how you picked out your pumpkin, roasted it and made your own puree. Just don’t tell them how easy it is. 🙂
Some cooks swear by the canned stuff; they’re looking for absolute consistency of texture and taste from year to year. I grew up in a farming community, so have had lots of experience with both canned pumpkin pies and those made with homemade pumpkin puree, but it was my (ex) Mother in Law that really convinced me of the difference. She made many pies every year from her own puree and you could really taste the fresh pumpkin flavor. (Keep in mind that might not be a flavor you’re used to, so try it first for yourself before you try it on guests!)
I’m probably about the same age now as she was when I was eating her pies! Time flies – that was almost 30 years ago! I’ve thrown down a lot of pies since then and I love them all, but my fave is Pam Anderson’s Pumpkin Pie, and usually make a new Pumpkin Pie recipe every year, too. Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving Desserts…but I haven’t decided what I’m doing with my Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree this year! Stay tuned!
Picking the Pumpkin for Homemade Pumpkin Puree:
Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree can be made with any pumpkin, but there are special varieties of pumpkin referred to as sugar pumpkins, sweet pumpkins or pie pumpkins that are used for pie. They really are a whole different animal than our large pumpkins bred for Jack-O’-Lanterns. (When was the last time you heard that term, lol!) You can read more about pumpkins on Wikipedia. You might be inspired to make more than just pie!
Sugar pumpkins are usually smaller, about 8 to 12 inches in size, about three to eight pounds, depending on the variety. Sugar pumpkins have a greater proportion of flesh to size than the large Halloween pumpkins. They’re bred for flavor and the flesh is a finer texture and less fibrous than other pumpkins.
Pick up a few sugar pumpkins when you see them at the store – you can decorate with them for autumn or Halloween, and as long as you don’t cut them, cook with them later. You’ll need to keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t getting soft. And don’t forget to roast the seeds. Brine them and spice them like I do for My Best Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. They’re a delish little bonus and can be roasted right along with your pumpkin.
Roasting the Pumpkin for Homemade Pumpkin Puree:
Roasting your pumpkin is easy and straightforward. Wash your pumpkin under running water. The skin’s going to be discarded, so no need for heroics, but you don’t want dirt falling into your pumpkin. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, break off the stem or cut it off if it doesn’t just break. Try not to take too much flesh. Then just cut the pumpkin in half. There’s no need to remove any hard area around the stem or do any trimming. The stem area will just pop right off after the pumpkin is roasted.
Next scoop out the seeds (an old-fashioned ice cream scoop works great) and get any loose fibers you can from the flesh. It might seem like a bit of a waste, but it’s not going to improve your puree in any way to leave it. Place your pumpkin, cut side down on a foil sheet for easy cleanup and roast in the oven until the skin is slightly darkened and the flesh is very soft. You can test by piercing it with a knife. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, it will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
You might think you’d lose a lot of the juices (and flavor) by roasting the pumpkin cut side down, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The pumpkin roasts and steams at the same time and makes a puree with a beautiful texture that’s not too, too wet. Some people roast their pumpkin cut side up, but the edges get dry and dark and it generally needs to be covered with more foil, which is a bit of a waste.
There are several other ways to cook your pumpkin for puree. Sometimes it’s boiled, steamed on the stovetop or in the oven or cooked in a pressure cooker. I tried cooking pumpkin in my pressure cooker, both on a rack and in a pot in pot method (put the pumpkin in a pot and cover it) which are both methods used to try to keep the pumpkin a bit dryer, and found I had to strain my pumpkin puree forever because it was so wet. The time savings was negligible by the time the pressure cooker came up to pressure and the release was done and I had to cut the pumpkin into pieces. It’s not easy to cut a firm pumpkin! A fellow blogger, Judi, from Cooking with Aunt Juju has used the microwave and has a post on Cooking with Fresh Pumpkin. Judi is one of our hosts at Fiesta Friday this week (scroll to the bottom of the page.)
Turning the Pumpkin Into Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree:
Once your pumpkin is roasted, just peel off the skin. It should just lift right off with no resistance. If there is any discoloration from cuts or bruises on the outside of the pumpkin, just trim it away. If you have a hard area around the stem, just pull it away.
There are a few ways to turn that flesh into the puree. The pumpkin can just be mashed, tossed in the food processor or worked through a ricer or a food mill. No matter how I make the puree, I cut it first, but in a thoughtful manner. Look at the pumpkin and you’ll see long fibers running from pole to pole (the top to the bottom.) I lay it out on a cutting board and chop the pumpkin across those fibers. That little 30-second step is going to help you get the smoothest puree.
Then choose your method to get your Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree. And don’t worry if you don’t have any of these specialty tools – people have been mashing potatoes for centuries without them. They just make it easier to get a smooth puree. A plain old potato masher or a fork can do the job. I’m personally a fan of the food processor.
If you’re in a hurry, hand mash. One of those old-fashioned mashers with the holes (sometimes they’re called waffle head mashers) is helpful. If you have a food processor, that’s a great, but messy shortcut. And if you have one and a lot of patience (it always looks easy on tv) use a food mill for silkiest pumpkin puree. Work it one direction to puree, then turn it back to clean it off, add some more pumpkin and repeat. I’ve used a ricer before – it’s a thankless task and messy, but just like the food mill, will give you a gorgeous puree.
Your homemade pumpkin puree is going to be less dense than the canned pumpkin. Most recipes aren’t so super particular that it makes a huge difference; normally you can short the liquid in a recipe by a tablespoon or two. If you’re making a pie, you’ll want to get as close to the consistency of canned pumpkin as you can. Place your puree in a lined strainer (in the fridge) and strain for about an hour. If you want to be exact, you should strain to the point that 1 1/2 cups of the puree weighs 15 ounces as most recipes are based on the density of canned pumpkin.
Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree- Food Safety & Storage:
Any time you’re working with food that’s thick and dense, you really need to keep food safety in mind and Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree is no exception. Don’t leave the pumpkin sitting at room temperature for a long time, waiting to be worked with – keep that two-hour safety window in mind. Make sure tools and hands are clean. To store, refrigerate promptly in smaller amounts, the size of one pumpkin or portion sizes that you’ll use, so it chills quickly. Just don’t make a lot of puree from multiple pumpkins and put it all in one container. It won’t chill fast enough to be safe. Use your Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree within a few days or freeze.
As far as portion sizes, about a cup and a half is close to a can, but you’ll probably have odd amounts of pumpkin puree, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Keep in mind recipes that use a small amount of puree so you use it all – I vote for my Pumpkin Spice Lattes, they use three tablespoons of puree. And my Healthier Pumpkin Spice Muffins use one cup.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin puree that has been frozen, although I sometimes do freeze it. I like to make my pumpkin puree and use it promptly, but if you’re going to freeze, don’t forget to measure and label. Ziploc bags work great and don’t take up too much room and can be stacked easily. Thaw in the fridge and put the package in another container just in case the Ziploc leaks.
Pumpkin can be canned, but it’s not recommended to can pumpkin puree. Whenever I have a question about canning or preserving, I visit the National Center for Home Preservation. They are thorough!
Saving Money on Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree:
It’s so hard to definitively say which is cheaper, making your own puree or buying it canned. There are just so many variables – the size and cost of the pumpkin (it takes an average of about 1 1/2 cents to run the oven for an hour) vary, and the price you pay for canned pumpkin varies a lot, too!
If you grow your own pumpkins, that’s always going to be the cheapest. If you’re buying pumpkins for decorating, well then the puree is a bonus. And if you can buy your pumpkins at a great price, check Aldi or your farmer’s market, that’s great! My little pumpkin was 3 pounds 10 ounces and gave me 1 pound 12 ounces of finished puree. I paid $1.79 for my pumpkin, and this was the smaller of two pumpkins that were the same price. If I’d used the five and a half pound pumpkin, I would have had more puree for the same price.
The last can I bought was $.99 cents. An equivalent pricing of my Easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree with my small pumpkin is 95 cents, so to make it financially worthwhile to make your own puree, you need a great price on your sugar pumpkins, and if they’re priced by the pumpkin, pick the larger ones. But then it’s not really about the cost, it’s about the quality and flavor.
Homemade Pumpkin Puree
- 1 sugar pumpkin, washed, cut in half and deseeded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet tray with foil for easy cleanup. Place pumpkin, cut side down and roast for 45 to 50 minutes or until very tender when pierced with a fork.
When finished, remove skin and trim any areas that are discolored and the hard part where the stem was. Slice flesh thinly at right angles to the fibers. Pure using a fork, masher, food processor, food mill or ricer.
Refrigerate promptly. Use within four to five days or freeze.