It’s a shame that so many people only enjoy pumpkin pie on the holidays. Perhaps many see it as a treat to look forward to a few days each year.
My other thought about pumpkin pie is that if you’re baking one just for the holidays, and it’s someone’s treat, it better be good, right? I mean, they’ve waited the WHOLE year for this!
Although pumpkin pie is basically a spiced custard pie with cooked, pureed pumpkin, there are many ways you can go about it. For example, you can buy a name-brand cooked, pureed pumpkin (plain or somewhat pre-prepared), or you can cook your own pumpkin puree from, well, a pumpkin.
A real pumpkin? It’s not that hard, but is it worth it?
Let me first talk with you about making your own cooked pumpkin puree for your pie instead of using canned. The first thing that’s obvious, unless you spice the heck out of your puree, is that generally, a pumpkin pie made from your own pumpkin is lighter in color and (duh!) fresher in taste. Is that good? Well, interestingly, some people actually prefer canned over fresh. This is not because it’s necessarily better, but it’s what they are used to. Be prepared for this reaction.
The other thing you have to be careful of is buying the right pumpkin to cook and cooking it properly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who bought an extra Jack-o-lantern-style carving pumpkin when they were out shopping with their kids. They went home, peeled it, carved it up into chunks, simmered it until it was tender and made the absolute worst pumpkin pie they’d ever eaten.
And they’ve used canned pumpkin ever since.
What happened? Well, they made two HUGE mistakes. They bought the wrong type of pumpkin and chose the worst way to cook it.
The first and most important step when making a pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin is choosing what’s known as a pie pumpkin. They’re about 6” in diameter and very heavy for their size since their pulp is thick and dense. They’re also much sweeter than regular pumpkins and less stringy/fibrous. All, good things…
So, you’ve bought your pie pumpkin, now what?
What you want to do now is cook the pulp until it’s very tender without watering the taste down. So I’d suggest you DON’T use water. Roast it instead.
Like acorn squashes, pumpkins are winter squashes, so you’re going to cook your pumpkin the same way you’d roast an acorn squash. Wash and then cut the pumpkin in half through the stem, scooping out the seeds and fibrous stringy stuff. Next, paint the inside with melted butter, place it upside down on a greased baking pan, add about a half cup of water and roast it in a 350 F oven for between 45 minutes to an hour (as long as it takes to make the pulp tender).
Note: Adding water to the pan will create a bit of steam, which will prevent the pumpkin from sticking to the pan or browning too much. Be careful not to add too much water. You don’t want to water down the pulp.
Note: If you want, you can season the inside with cinnamon sugar, honey or maple syrup, but I don’t bother. It’s a waste. I add those ingredients to the filling later.
When the pumpkin is tender to the touch, remove it from the oven and set it aside for about 30 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle. Then, scoop out the flesh. Place the flesh into a blender or food processor and puree until it is very smooth.
Note: If you want extra-smooth pumpkin puree, first run the pumpkin flesh through a food mill and then process it in a blender or food processor.
Now for an important message!
Okay, you’ve done everything right so far, but there’s one more important step. Extract any remaining water to concentrate the flavor of the puree. Here’s how:
Line a colander or large sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth or a closely woven, flat bar towel.
Pour the puree in, place everything onto another plate or pan and put it in the fridge.
Allow any excess water to drip through for about 12 to 24 hours, and you’re all set.
You can refrigerate your finished pumpkin puree for about a week or freeze it for later use in one of those reusable plastic storage containers or a zip-style bag. In either case, leave a little extra room for the expansion of the puree as it freezes. Frozen puree will easily last 6 months.