How To Cook & Can Pumpkin and Live To Tell the Tale

Reader Contribution by Jean Silver
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I know pumpkins and squash are supposed to be a gardener’s delight, but this year’s harvest has been downright ridiculous. We have pumpkins everywhere. This is really putting my imagination to a test. I’ve been reading everything that I can about pumpkin recipes and what to do with pumpkins. Of course, if my imagination runs dry, the chickens and goats love to take up the slack for me!

Sometimes it’s fun to just toss the whole pumpkin into the goat yard and watch them examine it. They push it with their noses. They gnaw at it a little bit. They may get bored with it after they fail at trying to take a really good bite and go someplace else. Once the chickens find it though, the fun starts. They’ll peck at it until they break through the rind, then try to devour it. When the goats see what’s happening, they move back in and take over, finishing off whatever they can find.

I like pumpkins a lot of different ways. We’ll eat them as soup. We’ll eat them as pie and pudding. Pumpkin bread is our specialty. And we’ll can a lot. As of writing this, it’s still not recommended to can pumpkin puree, at least according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I really trust what they say, and usually I follow their recommendations word for word — but not about canning pumpkin. I know people say all the time that they’ve been doing something since they were born, and you have to take things like that with a grain of salt. In this case, though, I really have been doing this since I was a kid. I give it to my children and grandchildren. I eat it myself. I use it in many kinds of foods. So I feel pretty safe in saying that puréed pumpkin, if properly pressure canned, can be quite safe to eat and use.

One thing I have to emphasize, though, is that this is absolutely not a canning bath process. I can’t prove (I’m happy to say) that water bath canning could be fatal, but pumpkin isn’t an acidic fruit by any means, and non-acidic foods should be pressure-canned.

I’m always paranoid about pressure canning. I’m constantly afraid that I’ll do something wrong. If the recipe calls for 10 pounds of pressure for 30 minutes, I use 15 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. It doesn’t seem to hurt the food quality, although I’m not a nutritionist. However, botulism is just not something that I want to risk.

It looks like I’m going to be canning a lot of pumpkin this year. As I get set to start, I’m going to describe the lazy cook’s way to prepare and can this wonderful orange squash.

Just like with apples, I don’t do all the usual — cut open the pumpkin, pull out the seeds, peel the pumpkin with a vegetable peeler, and then cook. Instead, I cut the top off the pumpkin.

If I’m going to dry or cook and eat the seeds, I pull most of them out because they just don’t seem to taste right if I cook them in the pumpkin. If I’m just going to feed them to the chickens and goats, they don’t seem to care, so I just leave the seeds where they are and spoon them out later, after the pumpkin is cooked. Then I put the top back on, put the pumpkin on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 F, and walk away. You do have to watch it. You can scorch the flesh. However, depending on the size of the pumpkin, within a couple of hours it will collapse on itself. If you take a fork and stab it, water will rush out and the skin will be pulling away from the flesh. At that point, I take the pumpkin out of the oven, let it cool, then literally peel the rind off or spoon out the flesh. No big hassle.

Any further preparation of the pumpkin depends on what it is I plan to do as an end product. I used to always put the flesh through a food mill before canning. However, my 10-month-old grandson dove into cooked, stringy, pumpkin pulp for dinner one night and seemed to love it. Since seeing that, knowing how good the fiber is, I can some of my pumpkin right off the rind. For pies and puddings and soup, I go ahead and put it through food mill so the texture is right for those foods.

The actual act of canning the pumpkin is like any other pressure canning process. For me, it’s 12 pounds of pressure for an hour for pint jars. I should mention that I love those reusable canning lids and use them a lot. For this, though, I just use the old fashioned metal ones. I feel safer that way. I don’t really have anything to show that the reusables would be a problem; I can green beans in the pressure cooker with these lids and think they’re wonderful. I guess the fact that the USDA doesn’t recommend canning pumpkin pulp in the first place is what stops me from using them. Anyway, it looks like the shelves are going to be loaded with pumpkin this year!

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