Cans of pumpkin puree are something I generally don’t have on hand and when I set out to make something with pumpkin puree I typically completely forget to buy some when I’m at the grocery store.
What I do often have on hand, particularly in the fall and early winter, is pumpkins.
Making pumpkin puree is fairly quick and very easy. The end result is often on-par with what you’d find in the grocery store, though it may be a bit waterier, which may require adjusting the liquid in whatever recipe you’re using the puree in.
Before we dive in, please note that pumpkin puree cannot be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner. If canning is your ultimate goal, your strategy is to pressure can pumpkin chunks and then puree the chunks when you need it for a recipe.
Choosing the right pumpkin
To start, you need a good pumpkin. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good for this—these pumpkins have been bred for carving purposes, not eating. While they are, of course, edible, they’re not as tasty or as tender as a pumpkin intended for eating.
When it comes to planting time in our garden in the spring, we always plant a few jack-o-lantern pumpkins so we have something to carve in October (though this year we had a pumpkin thief run off with our humongous jack-o-lantern pumpkin!) and we plant a bunch of sugar pie pumpkins. When selecting your pumpkin seeds to plant, if you’re growing these pumpkins yourself, read the description to ensure it’s meant for eating.
This year we ended up with about ten sugar pie pumpkins. We store them in my mom’s basement along with the rest of our squash. (For those new to the blog, I don’t have a basement or any sort of cool storage space, so I use a basement bedroom at my mom’s house as my food storage central. In return for using her space, she has free access to our harvest.) I often find pumpkins are the first squash to go mouldy and disintegrate. Quite often the butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash will last till about March or April—they seem to go mouldy when the weather outside turns to spring—but the pumpkin will go mouldy within a month or two. It’s currently December and most of our pumpkins have been thrown in the compost because they went bad before we could do anything. We still have a few hanging around.
Back to the puree…
Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Cut your pumpkin in half. This can be tricky and potentially dangerous depending on the thickness, size, and shape of your pumpkin, and the strength and dexterity of your hands—so be very careful.
I typically find if I can break the stem off, that lets me put the pumpkin stem-side-down on the cutting board. The stem area is often very tough to cut through, but the bottom of the pumpkin is a little easier to cut. However you cut your pumpkin, the more stable it is on your cutting board, the less risk there is of injuring yourself.
There are two ways I’ve found for cutting pumpkins and other large squash:
- Using a large and sharp knife—larger than your pumpkin, if you have one that large—press the middle of the blade against the peak of the pumpkin and see-saw the knife back and forth. The knife doesn’t slide back and forth, you’re just pressing down and see-sawing it (alternating between putting the greatest pressure on the handle end and then the tip end). You may want to drape a tea towel over the tip end of the knife so you don’t risk cutting your fingers/hand in this process. It’ll usually be a bit tough to break through the skin, but once you’ve done so, it’s fairly easy to then slide it down through the rest of the pumpkin. As you start to meet resistance when you get to the thick and tough stem area, stop.
- If you don’t have a knife large enough for the above method, or if you find it’s not a method you’re comfortable with or capable of doing, the other method I’ve found is to take a reasonably large and sharp knife and carefully stick the knife into the pumpkin. Because you’re starting with the sharp tip, it goes in fairly easily. You should then be able to cut down one side of the pumpkin. When you meet the resistance of the thick and tough stem area, stop. Then turn the pumpkin around, slide the knife into the cut at the top, and then cut down the opposite side, again stopping when you meet that resistance.
Whichever method you’re using, remember to always be conscious of where your fingers and hands are and, whenever possible, cut so the knife is going away from you. I’ve come pretty close to chopping my fingertips a few times.
Now that you’ve cut through about 90% of the pumpkin, there’s still that tough stem part you didn’t cut through. Put the knife aside and break the pumpkin apart manually. To do this, slip your fingers into the cut you’ve made—the pumpkin should “give” enough for you to do this—so you’ve got a pumpkin half in each hand, and pull it apart. The pumpkin should break fairly easily.
The next step is to clean out the pumpkin. Using a spoon, fork, or your hands—whichever works easiest for you, though I often find I use a combination of all of these—scoop out all the seeds and the stringy stuff in the interior. You could filter out the seeds and make roasted pumpkin seeds. I find we generally don’t eat them when we make them, so for us, I throw all the pumpkin guts, including the seeds, into our composter.
Once everything is cleaned out, give it all a sprinkle of salt, and then place them cut-side-down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, give the baking sheet a light spritz of oil or non-stick spray so the roasted pumpkin doesn’t stick to the baking sheet.
Then roast it in the oven for about 45-60 minutes.
You’ll know it’s ready when the skin starts to look a little bit wrinkly and the flesh of the pumpkin starts to pull away from the skin. When done, remove from the oven and turn the oven off. Let the pumpkin rest until it’s cool enough to handle.
With the pumpkin I roasted for this post, I didn’t really get much of that wrinkly or pulling-away effect, so I let it sit in the oven for the fully sixty minutes. When I let it rest to cool down, it then got very wrinkly and the flesh was clearly pulling away from the skin—I could tell because the skin was sinking down and looked like it had no flesh supporting it underneath.
Now comes the pureeing step.
Using a big spoon or other kitchen utensil ideal for scooping (perhaps an ice cream scoop?), scoop the pumpkin out of the skin and place in a food processor. The empty skin can be composted.
If your pumpkin is large or your food processor is small, you may need to do this in batches. Turn on the food processor and let it run until the pumpkin is fully pureed and smooth. If you find there’s a lot gathering on the sides, you may want to turn off your food processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula. You may also want to stir the pumpkin in the food processor as I sometimes find the chunky bits get trapped at the bottom under the reach of the blades.
In previous years, I’ve also done this with a hand blender / stick blender with the pumpkin in a flat-bottomed pot. It worked just as well but took quite a while and the blender got quite warm in my hand. So, ultimately, I’d recommend a standard food processor, but a stick blender will do the trick if that’s what you have.
In the absence of both a food processor and a stick blender, you could mash the pumpkin with a potato masher.
When the puree has a smooth consistency with very few or no chunks of pumpkin, it’s ready. I find it’s difficult to avoid chunks entirely, but I look at that as part of the appeal of homemade puree—it’s a reminder that I made this from scratch from a pumpkin my husband grew in our garden.
Storing your puree
From here you have two options for your next step.
- If you’re planning to use the pumpkin puree in the next day or two, transfer the puree into a container and place in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
- If you’re not planning to use the pumpkin puree in the immediate future, the puree can be frozen in freezer-safe containers. I like to use one-cup (half-pint) mason jars; I fill them with puree and leave a bit of headspace in case the puree expands when frozen, and then put them in the freezer. Be sure that the jar you use does not have “shoulders” but is instead “straight-sided”. If it has shoulders and the puree expands as it freezes, it could push up against the shoulders and break the jar. Alternatively, you could put the puree into Ziplock bags and squeeze out all the air.
- Most sources I see say that frozen pumpkin puree is good for about three months. However, I’ve had puree in the freezer for up to a year and it was fine when using it…so your mileage may vary on this.
- The old adage of “when in doubt, throw it out” applies here. If you find pumpkin puree in the back of your freezer from an unknown date and it looks like it might be freezer burned or it’s crystallized a lot, you’re likely best to throw it in your compost.
Pumpkin puree cannot be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner.
Using your pumpkin puree
You can use the pumpkin puree as you would use store-bought puree.
The only thing to be mindful of is that homemade puree tends to have more water to it, so you may need to adjust the liquid in the recipe you’re using so things don’t become too wet.
You could use this same method for pretty much any type of squash with a firm rind/skin.
My step-dad has made “pumpkin pie” using butternut squash before—you wouldn’t know it wasn’t pumpkin if he didn’t tell you—and he did it using one of our homegrown butternut squashes, so he would have followed this method or a variation of it.
- 1 Pumpkin
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400℉.
- Carefully cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the insides. The scooped-out insides can be composted or discarded. Alternatively, you could use the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds.
- Sprinkle a little bit of salt on the pumpkin.
- Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, until the skin starts to wrinkle and the flesh pulls away from the skin.
- Remove from oven, turn oven off, and let pumpkin cool until it is safe to handle.
- Scoop pumpkin flesh out of the skin and transfer to a food processor. Depending on the size of the pumpkin and the size of the food processor, this may need to be done in batches.
- Puree with food processor until a smooth consistency is achieved. Scrape down sides and stir pumpkin, as necessary, to achieve this smooth consistency.
- Puree may be stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to three months. If freezing in jars, ensure the jars are freezer-safe and are straight-sided (and do not have "shoulders", as this can lead to breakage if the puree expands while freezing).
- Homemade pumpkin puree is often a little waterier than store-bought puree, so when adding puree to recipes, adjust accordingly.