Picking Pumpkins

Tis the season, no? Pumpkin patches are springing up in grocery stores, church yards, street corners and even honest-to-goodness farms so that everyone can pick the number one pumpkin for carving. But what about pumpkins for cooking? Is it worth it to make your own versus using canned? Only you can decide that, but if you’re wanting to try making a pumpkin pie (or anything else) from the ground up, here’s some tips to get you through it.

When picking a pumpkin to carve, most people look for big ones with smooth skin (unless you’re going for a special jack-o-lantern effect), even shape and enough stem to make a good handle. But for baking, the stem is about the only thing in common–a generous stem prevents the pumpkin from spoiling. Overall, though, bigger isn’t often better, as the larger pumpkins tend to have less flavor and more water compared to the more compact pie pumpkins you’ll find in the produce section.

Treat a pumpkin like you would any whole squash. If it’s compact enough you can pierce it a few times and pop it in the microwave, whole, like you would an acorn squash. About 5 minutes on high should be enough for a the smaller pie pumpkins, going up from there. Or you can cut it into halves or quarters, scoop out the stringy bits and seeds and bake them, cut side down, for an hour at 350 F. You can also boil the pieces until tender.

Scoop the flesh away from the skin and then mash or puree it to break up any fibers and make it easier to blend into your recipe of choice. Most pumpkins will yield about a cup of flesh per pound of pre-cooked pumpkin.

Don’t toss those seeds! Clean them well and then roast them on an oiled cookie sheet at 325 F  for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. You can salt them, sugar them or toss them with a variety of herbs and spices for a healthy, crunchy treat.