Matt's sister Jessa asked me last week how I prepare pumpkin for pies, and I thought it might be useful to post directions for cooking up pumpkin for use in breads, pies, and other dishes. Fresh, plain pumpkin tastes so much better than store-bought pumpkin pie filling or canned pumpkin, and it's surprisingly easy to prepare. These instructions apply to any kind of pumpkin or winter squash (Matt and I actually prefer to use "true" squashes like Red Kuri and the type below for pies rather than jack-o-lantern type "pie pumpkins." We think the flavor is exponentially better and the texture of the flesh is much smoother and thicker).
I happen to have photos of the process because on Friday evening Matt and I set about preparing a massive pumpkin we got at the farmer's market, to make up some yummy breads for snacks and breakfasts this week.
First, preheat your oven to 350 F. Then, using a strong, sharp knife, cut your squash in half or into quarters, depending on how big it is. The pumpkin we were using was so big we just kind of hacked it apart. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh from the cavity. You can put the seedy stuff aside at this point to make roasted pumpkin seeds.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
I love this variety- Queensland Blue. The taste and texture are amazing, and the flesh-to-seed-cavity ratio is great!
Your pumpkin needs to be cut into manageable pieces that will fit into baking dishes and also your oven! We had to rearrange the oven racks and carefully arrange all of this pumpkin to fit it in. The thinner you slice it, the faster it will bake. Bake until you can stab the pumpkin flesh with a fork and meet little to no resistance- our big chunks took about 45 minutes. Also, baking squash releases a lot of moisture, so be prepared for a big cloud of steam when you open the oven!
Remove the baked squash from the oven and let it cool in the pans. Once it is cool enough to be comfortably handled, scoop the flesh away from the rind and into a bowl. I do this with my fingers because the rind is usually so soft at this point that a spoon will puncture it.
Now you are ready to use your baked squash, or freeze it for use later. You can puree it in a food processor before freezing it, or else freeze it as is, in freezer bags or other containers, to puree and use later. I did a little of both. I used four cups of squash in baking, and still had three large containers' worth to go in the freezer! That one pumpkin cost us $3, and will last us a long time!
Looking at recipes for pumpkin breads, it seemed like almost everything called for at least 3 eggs, and while we had plenty of eggs on hand, I wanted to make them last awhile, so I went looking on the internet for eggless recipes. I found a promising recipe, modified it a bit to cut down on sugar and increase the use of pumpkin, and came with this vegan recipe that is a definite keeper:
5 c. flour
3 c. brown sugar
4 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cloves
1 to 3 tsp. cinnamon
4 1/4 c. solid-pack pumpkin
1 c. canola oil
1 to 2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
Sift the dry ingredients together. Blend in pumpkin and oil. (It's not necessary to puree the pumpkin here, because mixed with the oil it stirs in smoothly). Fold in nuts. Pour into small loaf pans lined with parchment paper or greased and floured. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Makes 3 to 4 loaves.
This bread is so. good. It came out deliciously moist and perfect for breakfast or with a cup of tea. I got three good loaves out of it, and put one in the freezer, because even we wouldn't be able to eat through all of that before it goes bad!