That was quite a lengthy hiatus. We added a new little person to our family, and I will admit that I was not prepared to sustain the blog during the newborn period or the final few weeks of the pregnancy. I’m back in the saddle again (well, the house is a nightmare and I can’t tell you the last time I did my hair, but I am able to string together full sentences once more).
Now that Baby Hippie is a little older, we can go on fun little trips. Two weeks ago, we visited our favorite fall hangout: The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, IL. It’s a 3.5 hour drive for us, and it was worth every minute of fussy infant and bored preschooler in the car. They really know what they’re doing at the Patch. If you don’t believe me, ask Martha Stewart – she has featured them on her show. More than once. It’s a fun little destination – they have corn and hay mazes, a tractor ride, a haunted barn, live music, food concessions, and lots of pumpkins, squash, and gourds.
In fact, they grow hundreds of varieties there, using environmentally friendly techniques. Those practices are pretty labor-intensive; for example, they weed by hand until the vines and leaves grow large enough to choke out any undesirable plants. When you look at the size of the place, this idea is mind-boggling. I can’t imagine how much work that must involve, just to avoid herbicides. They grow some terrific things at the Pumpkin Patch, and they offer great suggestions for how to use most of the varieties available. Also, the family who owns the Great Pumpkin Patch are terribly nice people. If you anywhere near Illinois, you really should check them out.
This year, we spent some time in the section marked “Baking Pumpkins” and picked up a few so that I could attempt making my own puree for pancakes, pies, ice cream, etc. We started with two buckskin pumpkins and a smaller variety called Triple Treat (it stores well, bakes well, and has hull-less seeds for easier roasting and snacking).
It is a pretty simple process – you prep it, cook it, then puree it. Here’s how it went:
- Wash the pumpkin, then cut it into pieces. If you are baking the pumpkin, you can just cut it in half. Microwaving and steaming usually require smaller chunks.
- Scoop out the pulp and seeds. Wash the seeds for roasting later, if you are so inclined (separating the pulp from the seeds took FOREVER. Any suggestions for easier ways to make this happen would be greatly appreciated).
- Cook the pumpkin. I found recipes online that claimed that baking was the best method, other posts said that steaming was preferable, and still other folks use the microwave. I tested out all three methods, and they all worked just fine. Baking (cut side down in about a cup of water in a roasting pan, 350 degree oven, start checking for doneness around 90 minutes) took a really long time; about 2 hours for the pumpkin I used, and it was still a little firm. I would only recommend doing it this way if you were dealing with a number of pumpkins at once and need larger capacity. The microwave was the fastest and simplest method – put the pieces in a dish and cook on medium power, checking every 5 minutes until it’s done. However, this uses a ton of energy, so I’m not a big fan. Steaming was also pretty easy and took about 30 minutes. No matter which method you choose, you are looking for a very soft consistency – it should feel spreadable. The skin will start to shrivel and turn a little brown.
- Remove pumpkin from the shell after allowing it to cool enough to handle it.
- Puree cooked pumpkin in the food processor until it is completely smooth. If it feels wet, drain it in a sieve or through cheesecloth overnight to get rid of excess moisture. If the pumpkin has too much water, it messes with the consistency of the items you make with it.
- Store puree in 1-cup batches in the freezer. I got 5 batches from the pumpkin I used (which was huge compared to most pie pumpkins)
It was a time-consuming process, but that was mostly due to inexperience and the desire to try several different cooking methods. Next time, I think it will be a snap. We did a comparison between my puree and Trader Joe’s puree in a can.
The pictures do not do justice to the difference. My fresh buckskin pumpkin puree was a vibrant orange, whereas the canned product was brown. Ours was very sweet. Theirs was also sweet, but with slight sour and bitter notes. We ended up throwing away the canned pumpkin.
Stay tuned for recipes using all of the great pumpkins and squash we got down at the Great Pumpkin Patch.