Cooking a pumpkin (or any winter squash) is not for the faint of heart. It requires some of the elements that make for a good horror movie: a large knife, pumpkin guts, and awkward stabbing motions to pry the squash open.
I believe many people skip the ordeal of cooking a pumpkin because of the labor involved. But all the guts and gore are worth the effort if you love pumpkin. When I am literally up to my elbows scraping the innards out of a pumpkin, I remind myself of the soup or spice-infused dessert I will be serving my family.
Cooked winter squash can add color, fiber, and texture a recipe. One cup of cooked squash yields about 50 calories, no fat or cholesterol, three grams of fiber and two days’ worth of Vitamin A.
When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, the smaller pumpkins will provide a sweeter and less watery pulp. Avoid squash with blemishes and soft spots. One pound of uncooked pumpkin will yield about one cup of cooked pulp.
The first step in preparing your pumpkin is to wash it. Using a sharp knife, remove the stem and cut the squash in half. If the squash is extremely hard or dense, jab the knife in and make short sawing motions. And if that fails, smash the pumpkin against a hard surface to break it open.
Next, scrape out the seeds and stringy mass with a spoon. Put the mass and seeds in a bowl of water if you are planning on roasting the seeds. The water helps loosen the stringy mass from the seeds.
There are multiple methods for preparing pumpkin for puree: boil, bake, and microwave.
Boil/steam method: Cut pumpkin into large chunks and rinse in cold water. Place pieces in a large pot and add about a cup of water. You want enough water to steam the squash and not end up with a watery mess. Cover the pan and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until tender. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander.
Oven method: Cut pumpkin in half and rinse in cold water. Place pumpkin cut side down on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until fork tender.
Microwave method: Cut pumpkin in half, place cut side down on a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 15 minutes and check for tenderness. Continue cooking at 1-2 minute intervals until tender.
When the pumpkin is cool to handle, you are ready to make the puree. Scrape the pulp away from the peel or use a sharp knife. The pulp can be mashed or pureed using a food processor, food mill, or ricer. Strain the pulp in a colander if it’s too watery. Now you are ready to prepare your favorite pumpkin delights.
For more information about pumpkins and recipes, visit http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/ and look for the “Pumpkins and More” featured link.
Carol Erickson is a member of the Local Foods Work Group of the University of Illinois Extension in Winnebago County. She works as a Community Worker for Extension under the Illinois Nutrition Education Program, teaching community members how to prepare and cook healthy and nutritious food for themselves and their families. She blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.