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Chances are pretty good that you’re in possession of a pumpkin right now, and if you’re not, you probably plan to be shortly. Maybe you’ve already strapped on your gumboots and been out to your local pumpkin patch, or maybe you’ve picked up a pumpkin or two at your favourite farmer’s market. Consider this less of a recipe and more of a public service announcement . . . that pumpkin? It’s food! The internets are flooded with pumpkin recipes at this time of year, but sadly, the bulk of those recipes are calling for canned pumpkin puree at a time of year that the fields are dotted with orange. And even more sadly, most households are in possession of at least one pumpkin, maybe multiple pumpkins, which will be carved into scary faces and stuffed with candles to the delight of Halloween enthusiasts young and old, and then left to rot once the festivities come to an end. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can enjoy your pumpkins, carved up and spooky and with all the whimsy the season has to offer, and then when November rolls around, or sooner if you want, you can process your pumpkins.

I processed a pumpkin last week because I needed pumpkin puree for our delayed Canadian Thanksgiving festivities in Stockholm. I used it in pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pie, a sadly failed and ultimately abandoned batch of pumpkin gnocci (it was the right thing to do), and there was some left to be frozen in 1 cup portions for baking. I started with a 4kg pumpkin, and was left with around 8 cups of pumpkin puree. I’ll likely process at least one more while the pumpkins are still in the stores.

I started with a whole pumpkin, but you can still process a pumpkin that you’ve already carved up for Halloween purposes – and the good news is if that’s the case, the hardest part is already done. You’ll want to give the insides a bit of a scrape if they’ve been sitting around for a while, so you’ve exposed a fresh layer of flesh. If you’re starting with a fresh pumpkin, begin by taking off the top, splitting it in half, and then scooping the seeds and stringy bits out. I used an ice cream scoop with a nice sharp edge, and the innards came out quickly and cleanly.

If you’ve got a roasting pan you can fit your entire pumpkin in, then use it. I had to cut my pumpkin into quarters to fit it in the pan. Depending on the size of your oven and the size of your pumpkin, you may be able to fit in in a pan or on a cookie sheet in two halves. If you use a cookie sheet, use one with rims; the pumpkin is going to release a lot of liquid while it’s roasting. Whatever which way you end up fitting your pumpkin in the oven, you want it to be skin side up, cut side down. The skin will trap steam inside as it roasts, and the pumpkin will cook faster than if you put it skin side down.

While the pumpkin is roasting, you can decide if you want to do anything with the seeds; I normally can’t be bothered. Roasted pumpkin seeds always seem like they’re going to be a good idea, and just don’t seem worth the effort in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin seeds and they’ve got great nutritional value, I just prefer them already roasted and shelled is all. They never seem to turn out quite right when I roast them myself, so I’ve basically given up. But if you’ve got a great trick for pumpkin seeds and you want to prove me wrong, by all means, send the recipe my way and I’ll give it a try.

*updated! Duh, I totally love the seeds! I just rinse them well, pat dry, toss with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, and then throw them in the oven to roast along side with the pumpkin. Super yummy!

Roast your pumpkin in a 400 F oven, for about an hour, or until the pumpkin has collapsed, and the skin is blistered and pulling away from the flesh. There should also be some liquid in the bottom of your pan; the amount will vary depending on how long it has been since your pumpkin left the pumpkin patch. A very fresh pumpkin can hold an amazing amount of liquid.

Once your pumpkin has cooled sufficiently so that you can handle it,  peel the skin off of the flesh. The skin should come off quite easily; I normally start at the edge or by pulling up on a blistered section, and it will come off in strips. Place your pumpkin flesh into a container of some sort, and decide what you’re going to do with it next. If the pumpkin is really liquidy , you may want to let it sit for a while and drain off some of the liquid before you do anything else. Once the pumpkin is cooled I normally mash or puree it, and then portion it into 1 cup servings and freeze for baking. Pumpkin isn’t acidic enough to safely can it in a water bath canner, so unless you’ve got a high pressure canner at home that can reach the extreme temperatures necessary to ensure safety, don’t do it. Botulism is not your friend. Trust me, just freeze it.
You should end up with, depending on the size of your pumpkin, several portions of pumpkin puree that you can freeze and pull out when the mood strikes for pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pancakes, muffins, loaves, etc. Don’t let that Halloween pumpkin go to waste! It’s food!
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2010