Last year, after admiring two of our uncarved pumpkins as Halloween came and passed, I tried something I'd been wanting to do for a long time. I'd seen many Pinterest posts and articles promising how much better homemade pumpkin puree could be than the good old canned variety, and I thought, "Why not?"
One fall afternoon (and it took ALL afternoon, let me remind myself), I took on the task of cutting open, de-seeding, peeling, roasting and pureeing my own pumpkins. And I'll never do it again.
Whoops, Wrong Pumpkin!
First, I think I got bad advice. I read that while it was ideal to make pumpkin puree from sugar pie pumpkins, larger jack-o-lantern varieties were okay as well. Since I had two of those sitting outside, I thought I might as well make good use of them. First mistake.
- Get better advice: The Best Pumpkins for Baking and Cooking
Wrestling a Really Big Pumpkin Is Tough
The first pumpkin, the smaller of the two, had become really hard. Like so hard I couldn't cut into it. Okay, onto pumpkin number two. This was a large pumpkin, maybe 8 or 10 pounds, and a little difficult to wrangle. Carving the top off of the pumpkin and taking the seeds out involved spreading out a plastic trash bag to cover my floor, since it was too difficult to do on my kitchen counter. Think sharp knife plus slippery pumpkin on my living room floor and you'll get an idea of the frame of mind in which this project began.
- Takeaway: Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are just too big to cut up safely before roasting.
Slicing and Peeling a Big Pumpkin Is Hard
Breaking down a pumpkin of this size into slices proved even more difficult than carving a face into it. The sheer size of the pumpkin meant crouching down in a squat to get enough leverage to slice it.
I learned pretty fast, too, that peeling before roasting was not a good use of time.
The flesh was tough, so peeling meant little tiny bits of the peel would come off at a time, making it a lengthy and messy project.
- Takeaway: Don't peel winter squash or pumpkins before roasting; it's easy to scrape the roasted flesh out afterwards.
Roasting a Giant Pumpkin In a Teeny Oven Is Sad
Roasting the slices with the peel intact and then scooping the flesh away from the peel was better, but I had to wait until the flesh cooled enough to make this feasible. Plus, not all of the pumpkin slices would fit in my small NYC apartment oven at one time, so I had to do this in batches.
- Takeaway: These huge pumpkins don't even fit inside little city ovens. Yet another point in favor of smaller pie pumpkins.
The Unimpressive Results
Fine. Once all the pumpkin was roasted and scooped away from the peel, I pureed it. Whew, it was quite an effort, but the bright orange puree looked fantastic and I felt content. Then I tasted it. It didn't taste like pumpkin, but had the slightest squash flavor. Hmm, ok.
I was set to make a pumpkin bread recipe I'd make with canned pumpkin puree in the past and researched if I needed to alter it to use fresh pumpkin. I drained the puree a bit to get rid of extra moisture. The batter came together as expected. But the result? It didn't taste like pumpkin. Or squash. Just kind of oddly absent of flavor. This was not ideal.
I packaged up the remaining puree and froze it, thinking maybe a few months down the line I'd have a use for somewhat tasteless pumpkin puree. A year passed and, no surprise, I tossed it.
- Takeaway: If the points above didn't make it clear: yes, huge jack-o-lantern pumpkins just don't give you very good squash for roasting. If you want good-tasting squash, use something else, like a pie pumpkin or a Kabocha squash.
My Pumpkin Lesson!
Honestly, for all the work this was (and yes, yes I know I made lots of errors) I felt that my biggest takeaway was that regardless of the kind of pumpkin you roast, this is a lot of work for not particularly awe-inspiring results. We all have to make time trade-offs in the kitchen, and through this little exercise I discovered that while pumpkin puree is possible, I'm deeply grateful for the canned stuff too! I'll stick with Libby's for now on, since it's 100% pumpkin.
But if you do have the time (and better advice than I had), and are considering making your own pumpkin puree this fall, don't just use any old jack-o-lantern. Check out our tips:
Have you (successfully) made pumpkin puree? What are your tips and tricks?