Cooking and baking with the seasons is not only efficient, both in terms of time and money, but almost necessary for well-being. I believe the good Lord created the seasons, in part, to cater to our need for variety and change. We easily tire with too much of a good thing. For instance, how many people just a few, short months ago couldn't wait for the warmth of the sunshine on their face in the morning, are now ready for a cool, crisp walk in the brisk matutinal air. (Guilty.) We are creatures of change. What satisfied us today probably won't tomorrow. We crave variety. Well, it is the spice of life...
I, for one, am ready for the flavors of Fall. The body right now favors the succulent reds, greens and yellows from the apple orchards, the diverse, nutty squashes produced in all shapes and sizes, the plump, juicy tomatoes ripe from the vine. I have been eagerly awaiting the autumnal produce to hit the foodstalls. I appreciate these in the purity of their raw forms, but my creative juices get flowing whenever I encounter a ripe bundle of fruits and veggies.
I took the boys to the just-opened-for-the-season, pumpkin patch down the road the other day to ensure we had pick-of-the-litter this year for jack-o-lanterns on Halloween. We usually end up with the end of the batch, roly-poly pumpkins that have to be propped to stay upright, as we procrastinate until two days before eve. The patch was practically deserted, hardly anyone else wise to this early-picking strategy. Wandering the property were mostly young mothers with their tots eager to test out the pumpkin barn chute or haunted house. Our dilemma this time around was TOO many pumpkins to choose from! We went through the barrels, testing the durability, shape, size, weight, toughness, etc. of every specimen, each of us determined to find the perfect pumpkin. While the boys had their eyes on the largest they could manage to carry, I was distracted by the barrels full of ideally-sized pumpkins for placing in the oven. Forget the jack-o-lantern idea. I want to EAT my pumpkin. I found two of a rich orange hue which appeared would produce a hearty pulp.
Heading home, I realized that but for my desire to taste fresh pumpkin forthwith, the jack-o-lantern pumpkins this year probably would have suffered the fate of the previous years, puny and unwieldy. We probably would have waited to pick our pumpkins later in the month. And who knows -- with my voracious appetite for delectable flavors and creativity those pumpkins sitting on the front porch waiting to be carved may not make it to craft day, but end up dinner before Halloween. In which case, we'll be making our annual trip to the store on the eve of the Eve of All Saints for second-class jack-o-lantern pumpkins....
How to cook and puree a pumpkin: Cut out the top as you would for carving and scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Replace the top when done and wrap with tinfoil before placing in the oven. Cook at 375 degrees F for about an hour. I have had pumpkins cook anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Smaller pumpkins do not necessarily cook faster. It depends largely on how fresh the pumpkin is, although size can also be a factor. The one I cooked yesterday was relatively small but obstinate about cooking in a timely fashion.
The pumpkin is done when a fork can easily pierce the interior pulp (same texture as when potatoes are ready to be mashed). Then scoop out the pulp, careful not to take the skin with it, and place in a food processor or blender to make a puree. If you accidentally remove it before it is done fully cooking (like I did yesterday with mine), simply add a little water as you ease the pulp down towards the blade. If it is persnickity and won't easily puree, use a spoon to push it down towards the blade and add a little water if it is too thick. The puree can be used in any dish in which you would normally use canned pumpkin, such as pies, smoothies, or breads. It keeps well in a closed container for about a week in the fridge.
**N.B.** I hope you didn't toss out those seeds! There are a variety of uses for those as well! :-) (And are an excellent source of magnesium!)
Separate the seeds from the pulp and rinse off in a colander. Pat them dry between two paper towels. I roasted mine in the oven at 250 degrees F for about 45 minutes. (You can roast them for up to an hour depending on how toasty you like the taste of your seeds.) You can also roast them at a higher temperature (about 325 degrees F) if you are in a hurry, but they easily burn when done this way. Many people like to toss them with salt or other flavorings, similar to those one would use for popcorn, before roasting but I like mine naked. They are a great addition to salads and an excellent garnish for squash and other autumn soups.