The whole time I’ve been working with fresh pumpkin in the kitchen recently, I’ve been astonished that I’ve never done it before. We are traditional pumpkin pie eaters at Thanksgiving, and though my mother would like to have it more frequently, that’s about it. She always opened a can, and so did I.

The homemade puree is simple, though, especially if made ahead before the frost is on the pumpkin, and frozen so you have it on hand when you’re ready to bake.

Here’s the easy method:

  1. Use pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins rather than the type sold to carve or otherwise decorate with. They’ll be sweeter and fleshier. Plus they are smaller and easier to work with.
  2. A 4 lb. pumpkin makes about 2½ cups of puree.
  3. Wash the pumpkin thoroughly and slice off the top. Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise from the stem end down. Scoop out the strings and seeds. Don’t worry if it won’t all come out easily; once the flesh is roasted it will be easy to scoop out the rest.
  4. On a lightly oiled or parchment-lined heavy baking sheet, place the pumpkin cut side down. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees, and place the pumpkin in. Pre-heating doesn’t matter when roasting like this because the pumpkin can begin to roast from the lower temps on up to temperature.
  5. Roast for about 90 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft and a knife inserted meets no resistance. Remove from the oven and cool until the pumpkin can be handled. Scoop out any remaining pulp and discard. Scoop the flesh away from the skin and discard the skin.
  6. Puree the roasted pumpkin in a food processor until smooth. Place in quart-sized zip-lock bags. Refrigerate if using the puree within a few days, or freeze now for Thanksgiving cakes and pies. If the puree is very watery, drain briefly in a cheesecloth or sauté in a pan on low heat to remove some of the moisture.

Don’t forget to toast the seeds! Cooking like this reminds me of the stories Sitto used to tell about being raised on a farm. They wasted not one thing ever, so I’m sure they’d even have found a use for the top of the pumpkin, stem and all.

Rinse the seeds and remove as much of the pulp as possible. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dry out. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil or melted butter and several pinches of salt. Bake at 350 degrees until toasty, nutty brown, stirring occasionally. Hide these…then eat them while handing out Halloween candy to the kids, preferably with a good glass of wine hidden behind your jack-o-lantern.

We feel darn proud of ourselves for avoiding another can of anything, don’t we?! The pie pumpkins are cheap, too, only $1.25 for two, up north.

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