Okay, I got some pretty positive feedback from Preserving Apples 3 Ways, so let’s continue in that vein with preserving pumpkins, as they’re just beginning to come into season now . When preserving pumpkins, you’re a little more limited in how you can preserve them simply because they’re a low-acid food but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of the cheap, cheap prices and pick up several to enjoy over the winter. So let’s talk varieties! When you’re picking out your pumpkins, you want to avoid carving pumpkins. While they’re fantastic for carving, so they’re not so great for eating. They tend to have a very dry, stringy, flavorless flesh as opposed to pie pumpkins that are sweet, moist and perfect for eating. Pick smaller pumpkins that feels very heavy for their size and check to be sure there are no gashes or mars on the pumpkin’s skin. Last, try to choose pumpkins with nice 2-3 inch stems…that will reduce the chances of finding a spoiled pumpkin when you cut it open. Now that you’ve picked your pumpkin, let’s make canned pumpkin, pumpkin butter and candied pumpkin. Here we go!
The hardest part of preserving pumpkin (or squash!) is simply slicing the sucker open without cutting a finger. You need a large cutting board and a very sharp knife to pierce that hide. Carefully cut the pumpkin in half or quarters so that you have a manageable size to work with. Remove the seeds and stringy parts then flip it over and cautiously peel away the skin. Notice I keep reiterating caution: pumpkin skin can be incredibly tough, and it’s easy for a knife to slip and end up with a dreadful cut. Be careful my friends! Now chop the pumpkin quarters into 1inch by 1inch chunks and we’ll get started on our first preservation method.
Canning pumpkin requires very little prepwork, but it does require a pressure canner. Simply add the peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes to a pan of water and boil for 2 minutes. Add the boiled pumpkin to hot jars and cover with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of headspace in the jars. Cap with a 2 piece lid and process in a pressure canner for 55 mins/pints or 90mins/qts. When you’re ready to use the pumpkin, just drain it, mash it and use it as you’d use store-bought puree. It’ll make fabulous breads, soups, pies or cookies, though you must be diligent in draining it well!
Before you ask, no, you cannot can pumpkin puree. Due to the density of the puree and the lack of acid, there is no home-canning technique that Ball, the NCHFP, Food In Jars, Grow Your Own, USDA or any other reputable food preservation entities will approve of. I hope I don’t get nasty private messages over this, because so-and-so’s granny canned pureed pumpkin for 50 years and no one died. Well, praise God for that! My granny gave babies whiskey for colic and smoked Catalpa beans and no one died, but that doesn’t mean it was safe or smart. Science changes and as more information is available, techniques change as well. I know what you’re going to ask next and let me answer it now: companies like Libby’s CAN safely can pumpkin puree because they have approved means of regulating consistency and equipment that reaches much higher temperatures than our home pressure canners. So friends, if you insist on canned pumpkin puree, buy it at Walmart because there’s no safe way of preserving pumpkin puree at home.
Okay, so we’ve successfully canned cubed pumpkin for pies and bread. What else can we do with that pumpkin? Pumpkin butter! Take those delicious cubes of raw peeled pumpkin and microwave, steam or pressure cook til the flesh is soft, gloppy and cooked thoroughly. Puree it with an immersion blender or food mill til it’s smooth. Carefully measure out the puree and add it to a crock pot along with sugar and spices and allow to cook down til it’s reduced by 50%. That may take 8-10 hours or even longer, so don’t be impatient! When your pumpkin butter passes the spoon test, allow it to cool and then ladle into freezer containers or bags and freeze for up to 1 year. That’s some super easy pumpkin butter! Here’s exact directions from Pick Your Own.
One more recipe to go! Candied pumpkin! This may be a little outside your comfort zone, but it’s a fun little treat if you have a bit of pumpkin left over and you can feel good giving it to children because there’s at least a little nutrition under all that sugar. To make candied pumpkin you need raw pumpkin sliced into 1-inch cubes, brown sugar (1 cup) and water (2 cups). Boil the pumpkin cubes in water for 20 minutes til fork tender then drain them, reserving 1.5 cups of the cooking water in a pan. Add 1 cup of brown sugar to the reserved water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes and then add the pumpkin back in and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the pumpkin to steep in the syrup over night. The following morning, remove the pumpkin cubes from the syrup, drain on a rack over the sink and when they’re dry but tacky, roll them in additional sugar. Cinnamon sugar is really nice! You’ll want to store these in the fridge or freezer, but they probably won’t last too long! They’re like little chewy bites of pumpkin pie!
How easy was that? Delicious preserved pumpkin 3 ways, starting with the same raw cubed pumpkin! Now if you find yourself blessed with an abundance of winter squash or even sweet potatoes, you can use them interchangeably in these recipes with nearly the same results. Friends, if you haven’t enjoyed a fresh sweet potato pie, you haven’t lived! Try it sometime! Anyway, I hope you try these techniques and let me know what you think about them! Til next time!