Sometimes I feel as if I’m unlearning fifty years of received wisdom. On the very rare occasion I wanted to cook or bake with pumpkin, I always reached for a can of Libby’s. Opening up an autumn pumpkin – an orange, seeded orb from the farm or orchard – simply never occured to me, until now. I am pretty positive it made a great deal of difference in the flavor and texture of the bread I baked. And it wasn’t very taxing. A little time-consuming, but hardly problematic. Here’s how I did it:
I bought a medium-sized baking pumpkin from the store. It was smaller than the jack-o-lantern variety and I read that these have thicker walls. I cut into it vertically with a serrated knife, which was challenging, but once I had made the cut halfway through I could easily pry apart the two halves. I scooped out the seeds and stringy bits, as you would for pumpkin carving, a step I find visceral and satisfying. I then placed the halves cut side down on a deep baking dish and baked for an hour and a half at 375 degrees.
Apparently, you can also boil or microwave the squash, but I thought this way seemed simple and homiest. It made the house smell fantastic. When the pumpkin was done baking, I squeezed out the flesh and pulled off the skin in big pieces and spun it in the food processor for a few seconds. Finally, I spread cheesecloth over a mixing bowl, added the pumpkin and gently squeezed, releasing a couple of cups of liquid. When the contents of the cloth seemed more pasty-solid than liquid, I measured, about three cups of pumpkin puree in total, which was more than I needed for the recipe I had – 15 oz, the quantity of a typical can.
Time is a luxury, I know. Baking anything for yourself, your partner, your family – whether it comes from a mix or you gather the eggs from your own chickens in your own chicken coop and wash it down with milk from goats and cows you find grazing in your back pasture- is what counts. Because it feels good to do it. The sense of accomplishment, the boasting and Martha Stewartness of it, is all secondary to the fact that fresh, homemade goods taste amazing, still warm from the oven with a pat of cold butter perched on top. This pumpkin business will make you happy, and that’s why I suggest trying it.