How to Cook Fresh Pumpkins

Making your own fresh pumpkin puree and using them in your baking or cooking bring out the natural sweetness and freshness of this orange squash, which I personally think lacks in canned pumpkin puree. Of course, the latter helps if you don't have time to cook from scratch or access to fresh pumpkins.
The first step to cooking fresh pumpkin is buying the freshest-looking, infectious-less, healthy-looking and very bright orange pie pumpkin. Pie pumpkin tends to be sweeter than its larger cousin, the jack o lantern (great for carving!).  Pie pumpkins are available during the harvest months in the autumn in US.
Pie pumpkin

The next important step is cutting the pumpkin safely and effectively with a heavy, sharp knife. I know some people use handheld power tools. Feel free to use whichever tool you like as long as you exercise caution since cutting a pumpkin or any squash is like cutting a really really hard gourd. 
Assortment of squashes and gourds

Cut the pumpkin into halves. Remove the seeds and the stringy fibers/ membrane. 

You can save the seeds for eating (check out instructions below) or cultivating. There are three popular ways to cook fresh pumpkins.

1. Baking  (~45 mins)
This is my favorite method. Place the pumpkin halves face down in a baking dish. Fill the dish with 1 cup of water to keep the pumpkin flesh moist during baking. You may need to adjust the amount of water depending on the size of the pumpkin.
Bake at 450F for 45 mins or until you are able to pierce the skin with a fork and remove the fork easily and cleanly. Remove the pumpkin halves and scoop out the flesh using a large spoon.

2. Microwave (~15 mins)
This method uses less time but I think it does not taste as sweet as baking it. Shave the skin off the pumpkin (you can microwave for 1 min to soften the skin). Cut the halves into chunks. Place chunks in a large microwavable bowl. Add 1 cup of water to keep the pumpkin flesh moist during cooking. Cover the bowl with microwavable plastic wrap.

Set to high and cook for 15 mins or until you are able to pierce the flesh with a fork. Remove the pumpkin chunks.

3. Steaming (~20 mins)
You can use a electrical steamer or over the stove top. Shave the skin off the pumpkin. Cut the halves into chunks. Place chucks in a larger steamer basket or steel coriander. Place the basket or coriander in a deep pot and fill with 2 cups of water.  You may need to adjust accordingly depending on the steamer's instructions or size of the pumpkin. Cover the pot or steamer. Steam for 20 mins or until the pumpkin is fork-tender. Remove the pumpkin chunks.

Once the pumpkin is cooked, process the pumpkin into puree with a large food processor or food blender or simply mash it with a good old masher. A regular pie pumpkin typically yields about 5 to 6 cups of puree. The puree is then ready to be used! For leftover, unused pumpkin puree, you can store it in a freezer for later use.
Cooking pumpkin seeds 
Cooked pumpkin seeds are great for snacking! To prepare them, wash and remove any stringy fiber/ membrane the seeds are attached to. Dry them with a dish towel or paper towel. When dry, place the seeds in a bowl. Sprinkle your favorite seasonings like paprika, ground black pepper, salt, sugar or honey and mix with the seeds.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray cooking oil on a baking sheet. Spread the seeds on the baking sheet. Place the sheet into the oven. Bake the seeds for 10 mins. Stir the seeds around to avoid burning. Continue baking for another 10 mins or until the seeds are crisp. Allow to cool and store in an air-tight container. Enjoy snacking!

Saving pumpkin seeds for growing
I haven't tried planting pumpkins but based on my conversations with people who did, it's not difficult. Wash and remove any stringy fiber/ membrane the seeds are attached to. Dry them with a dish towel or paper towel. When dry, save the seeds in an air-tight container. The seeds are ready to be planted when spring comes around and danger of frost is gone.

Washed pumpkin seeds

Well, I hope you enjoy my culinary discovery on cooking fresh pumpkins. Don't forget to check out my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie recipes :) Also, visit my sweet and nutty baked acorn squash recipe.

Date: 11/6/2010
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