When choosing a pumpkin for cooking, choose a small pumpkin, labeled “pie” or “sweet” and weighing between 2 and 6 pounds. For every pound of whole pumpkin, you can expect to get 1 cup of pumpkin puree. Look for one that has one or two inches of stem left. Pumpkins with shorter stems decay more quickly. Choose a pumpkin that has a rich orange color with skin that cannot be easily broken or scratched by your fingernail. If you run out of time and energy before you use the pumpkins they can be stored for several months if kept at 50 to 55 degrees in a dry airy place.
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Before cutting, wash the outer surface of the pumpkin thoroughly with cool tap water to remove any surface dirt that could be transferred to the inside of the pumpkin during cutting. Be certain you are working on a clean surface.
Start by removing the stem with a sharp knife. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and scrape the stringy part away. Wash the seeds in warm water and spread them out to dry. To roast the seeds, spray pan with oil and spread seeds thinly on the pan. Flavor the seeds with salt or any seasoning that appeals to you, such as cheesy-popcorn seasoning or Cajun seasoning. Bake in a 250 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes.
For pumpkin puree, you can prepare the pumpkin in one of three ways:
• To bake a pumpkin, place it (stringy part and seeds removed), cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees about an hour until fork tender.
• To microwave it, place half of a pumpkin (stringy part and seeds removed) cut side down on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 15 minutes or until fork tender.
• To boil, cut the pumpkin into large chunks (stringy part and seeds removed) and rinse in cold water. Place the chunks in a large pot in about an inch of water. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes until tender.
Once the pumpkin is cooked, cool and peel the pumpkin and puree using a food processor, blender, ricer or a potato masher. Pumpkin puree can be used in any recipe in which you use canned pumpkin puree. You can also freeze the pumpkin puree for up to one year. Use the puree to make delicious dishes like pumpkin soup, risotto or ravioli.
Visit www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org for recipes. You can also learn more at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Start now to find ways to serve delicious pumpkin during the holiday season.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.