Written by Carol J Alexander
July 27, 2023
October is the month folks start swooning over the mention of Cucurbita pepo—that is, pumpkin. Do you stalk the stores and coffee shops waiting for your favorite pumpkin flavor to come in stock? Do you find yourself pinning your Pinterest boards with pumpkin recipes for everything from bread to pie and from soup to lattes?
Then maybe you’d like to know how to harvest your own pumpkin puree to use in those recipes. Not only is homegrown and harvested pumpkin tastier than the canned variety you find at the grocer’s, the job of getting to it can be a fun family activity.
One of the most popular crops in the United States, pumpkins are native to North America. They come in a variety of sizes, from the tiny decorative varieties to the great Giant Pumpkin, or Cucurbita maxima. Growers of the Giant pumpkin frequently compete to see who can grow the largest. In fact, you can probably find a pumpkin festival in your neck of the woods. (See sidebar for a few of the best.)
Mathias Willemijns, from Belgium, holds the record for growing the world’s largest pumpkin. His giant cucurbit weighed in at a whopping 2,624.6 pounds at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship in Ludwigsburg,
Germany in 2016. In the U.S., Joel Holland of Sumner, Wash. won the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif. last year with a humongous squash that weighed 2,363 pounds. Now, that’s a lot of pie! (And in case you’re interested, this big-gourd hobby earned him a purse of over $16,000.)
While extremely nutritious—with 245 percent of your daily value for vitamin A—pumpkins aren’t just for eating. Native Americans used them to treat intestinal parasites and urinary problems. And folks worldwide use the seeds, which are high in zinc, to treat acne and prostate inflammation.
Choose a medium-sized cooking pumpkin. Large varieties used for jack-o-lanterns have more water and seeds than meat, are stringy inside, and are not as sweet. For eating, look for fruit labeled “sugar pumpkin” or “pie pumpkin.”
Wash the fruit and remove the stem. Place it in the oven on a cookie sheet, centered from top to bottom. Bake at 325 degrees until you can insert a fork through the skin—about an hour, depending on the size of the pumpkin. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle.
Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Peel the skin from the flesh. Compost the skins and cut the pumpkin meat into chunks. You may save the seeds for snacking, later.
Place the pumpkin chunks in a thick-bottomed stock pot with a few inches of water. Simmer until all the water is gone and the volume is about half. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
Canning pumpkin requires a pressure canner. You also have to fill the jars, forcing you to can it in half-pints, pints, or quarts. However, you can freeze your puree in the right quantities for your favorite recipes—like that pumpkin-spice latte that only requires two tablespoons of pumpkin puree.
But, no matter how you preserve it, you can use home-harvested pumpkin puree just as you would store-bought canned pumpkin in pies, muffins, cakes, cookies,— and soups.
Whether you grow your own pumpkins, buy them from a grocer, or visit a local pumpkin patch, harvesting your own pumpkin puree is worth it. And if the weather hasn’t cooled yet, turn down the A/C, don a sweater, and dream of fall.
Big pumpkin festivals
Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival—home to the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Main Street. Half Moon Bay, Calif. Oct. 13-14, 9a-5p. For more information, visit weighoff.miramarevents.com/index.php
Autumn at the Arboretum is hosted by the Dallas Arboretum. This fall festival is home to the “internationally acclaimed Pumpkin Village, featuring more than 90,000 pumpkins, squash and gourds.” 8525 Garland Road, Dallas, Texas. Sept. 22—Nov. 21. For more information call 214-515-6615 or visit dallasarboretum.org
The Hiram House Camp Pumpkin Festival welcomes over 7,000 families each year to join in the fun activities, arts and crafts, and food. 33775 Hiram Trail, Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Oct. 14, 10a-5p. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hiramhousecamp.org/hiram-house-pumpkin-festival/
The South Jersey Pumpkin Show Festival is held each year at the Salem State Fairgrounds in Woodstown, NJ. Oct 12, 5p-10p. Oct. 13-14, 10a-6p. For more information, call 856-765-0118 or visit sjpumpkinshow.com