While baking with pumpkin can be as easy as going to the grocery store and buying a can of pumpkin purée, what if you were feeling ambitious and wanted to do the whole process yourself, starting with a whole pumpkin? Not all pumpkins are created equal and work well in cooking and baking, so here is a guide to help you pick and purchase the right ones.
What makes a good cooking and baking pumpkin?
Those big pumpkins you see at the pumpkin patch for carving into jack-o'-lanterns look appealing, but they're the worst for cooking and baking. While yes, they are edible and you can cook with them, they're very stringy, bland, and watery.
The best pumpkins for baking and cooking with are sweet, flavorful, and have smooth-textured flesh. In fact, pumpkin purée manufacturer Libby's breeds their own Select Dickinson pumpkins for their extremely smooth texture.
Read more: What's Really in Your Canned Pumpkin?
Which pumpkins do I choose?
When shopping for pumpkins, look for the ones usually generically labeled "sugar pumpkins" or "pie pumpkins." Some specific names are Baby Pam, Autumn Gold, Ghost Rider, New England Pie Pumpkin, Lumina (which are white), Cinderella, and Fairy Tale. Cinderella and Fairy Tale pumpkins have hard, thick skins but still have delicious flesh inside.
Choose pumpkins between four to eight pounds, and don't worry if the outside looks a little dull — as long as you don't see any big bruises or soft spots, it's fine. Pumpkins have a long shelf life and can keep for months at cool room temperature.
And if only the big carving pumpkins are available, choose a winter squash like butternut squash instead for the best results.
Preparing Whole Pumpkins
Once you have the right kind of pumpkin, you can treat it like any other hard winter squash: Roast it whole, steam it, or cut it into smaller pieces before cooking into soups and curries. For baking, make your own pumpkin purée by baking or roasting it before using in recipes, and don't forget to save and roast those tasty seeds.
Pumpkin purée freezes very well, so make a big batch to save for another baking project!