Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DIY Pureed Pumpkin

Small Pumpkin on Scale
Sugar Pie Pumpkin

Method by Robin, Livestrong.com, and Marian Kleinsasser Towne

There’s more than one way to cook a pumpkin, and what’s easiest will depend upon how much time you have to cook it and how much effort you’re able to put in. I typically steam the pumpkin because it’s faster than baking and requires less finesse than microwaving. In fact, all I do cut the pumpkin into quarters or sixths, remove the innards, and steam it till it’s tender. Some people peel it before steaming, but these folks must be more coordinated than I am. Gripping a large piece of slippery pumpkin in one hand and a peeler in the other seems like it could get ugly fast at my house. I’m more inclined to scrape the pumpkin off the skin after steaming, when the only danger (too-hot pumpkin) is easy to identify before boo-boos happen.

Pumpkin Puree unwrapped from Cheesecloth
Pumpkin Puree after Draining
Sommer Leigh from Livestrong.com makes the excellent point that some natural pumpkin puree is watery compared with the canned stuff, and this can actually make your all-natural pumpkin recipe (especially pies) taste inferior to the canned-pumpkin ones. So unfair! She suggests draining the pumpkin overnight in a cheesecloth-lined sieve after scooping it out of the skin. I like to puree the pumpkin first, then drain it. Depending upon how soon I’ll be using the pumpkin, I either let it drain overnight in the fridge or at room temperature as it cools. In either case, I gather the cheesecloth together at the top and squeeeeze out the liquid periodically. The result is pumpkin that’s easy to cook with and tastes fresher than canned—without the environmental impacts caused by the canning industry.

Spoon Scooping Seeds out of Pumpkin
Familiar Halloween Process
Pureeing the pumpkin is necessary to break up the lumpiness or stringiness that is the nature of pumpkin flesh, to make the texture smooth and uniform. This step is also done in commercial processing of pumpkins. I prefer to use an immersion (stick) blender, which is powerful enough to smooth out lumps and strings, and a lot less work to clean up than a food processor or blender. A food processor would be my second choice, but use what you have on hand. A food mill requires muscle but produces a very smooth and uniform puree. Some people actually mash it up by hand. The puree texture wouldn’t be as smooth and fine, but it could work for an ingredient in muffins or breads or even soups. I wouldn’t recommend it for pies though.

Let me know if you have some preparation methods or tips that I missed.

Pumpkin Pieces in Steamer
Steaming is my Preferred Method
DIY Pumpkin Puree
3 lb. pumpkin = 1.5 - 2 cups puree (+ l cup drained liquid)

Step 1: Preparing the Pumpkin

Choose a sugar pie pumpkin rather than a jack-o-lantern type pumpkin if possible. Sugar pies have better flavor and texture for cooking. They’re small and round, mostly in the 3 – 4 lb. range, though I’ve seen them up to almost 7 lbs. at small grocers.

Cut the pumpkin in half carefully. I use a cleaver and rubber mallet, working slowly and gently. If you’re going to bake the pumpkin, endeavor to get both halves as equal as possible. For steaming or microwaving, relative size doesn’t matter much. Clean out the seeds and strings with a spoon. (Keep the seeds for roasting.)

If steaming or microwaving, cut again to make quarters or sixths, or whatever size pieces will fit into your steamer or microwave dish (dish must be covered).

Pumpkin Being Scooped off its Skin
After Pumpkin is Cooked
Step 2: Cooking the Pumpkin

To steam: Put water in steamer bottom and pumpkin in steamer rack. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and steam for 20 minutes. Test each piece with a fork. If they’re all tender, stop steaming. If some have hard areas continue steaming for another 10 minutes. Test again and repeat as necessary. Usually 20 - 30 minutes is plenty, but it depends upon the age and thickness of the pumpkin flesh.

To microwave: Put pumpkin in microwave dish and add 2 tablespoons water. Cover dish with lid, plate, or plastic wrap (least preferred). You will microwave for 20 minutes or so, BUT do so at 5-minute intervals. So: microwave for 5 minutes, stop and let pumpkin rest about 3 minutes. Microwave another 5 minutes, let rest again. Repeat once more, until it’s microwaved for 15 minutes. Test with fork. If all pieces are tender, stop. Otherwise continue microwaving at 5-minute intervals, testing each time for doneness. This will usually take about 20 – 25 minutes, but requires more care than steaming.

To bake: I would be inclined to make this like I make butternut squash: cut-side down in a baking dish with about ¾ inch of water added. However, Marian Kleinsasser Towne, in A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook, suggests placing it cut-side down on a greased baking sheet. In either case, bake it at 350 degrees F. for about 75 – 90 minutes. Test it for doneness after one hour by poking it through the skin with a fork, then every 15 minutes or so until it’s uniformly done. This method requires little care, but more time. It’s practical if you’re baking something else too.

Pureeing Pumpkin with Immersion Blender
Immersion Blender: Easy Puree
Step 3: Pureeing the Pumpkin

Cool pumpkin till it can be handled. Scrape flesh from skin with a spoon, being careful to keep stray bits of skin out of the pumpkin to be pureed. Put pumpkin into a bowl, food processor, or blender. Or put through hand-operated food mill. This last method has the advantage of making completely smooth puree with no lumps.

Immersion blender: It’s most efficient to use the cup that the blender comes with. Fill it with chunks of pumpkin and blend till smooth. You can keep adding pumpkin to the cup as it processes down, until cup is full. Then repeat.

Food processor: Scoop pumpkin from skin into food processor. Process until smooth and uniform, scraping down several times.

Blender: Scoop pumpkin into blender. Blend on puree, adding more pumpkin as it processes down. Scrape sides frequently.

All methods (except food mill): Check to see that there are no lumps. Either re-process or discard any that you find.

Hand Squeezing Liquid out of Cheesecloth
Squeeze to Drain Liquid
Step 4: Draining the Pumpkin

A jelly bag works great for straining pumpkin, if you happen to have one. Layers of cheesecloth (about 3 – 4) inside a sieve work well too. Jelly bags and cheesecloth can both be used to squeeze out the pumpkin liquid as well as letting it drain passively. For that reason I don’t recommend using paper towels, which can shred when twisted and compressed.

Pour or spoon puree into jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined sieve. Suspend over a bowl. If you want to use puree asap, let it drain for 2 – 3 hours, twisting the top of the cheesecloth together or squeezing the jelly bag every half hour or so to release liquid. If you’re not using the puree immediately, let drain overnight in refrigerator. Twist top of cheesecloth or squeeze jelly bag the next morning, and periodically until very little liquid is released. Store in refrigerator and use within a few days, or freeze.

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