It feels like whenever the month of October rolls around, a memo goes out to all the grocery stores and produce markets to bring out all the pumpkins and all pumpkin flavored products. I am not opposed to the change from the mango and pineapple summer items to the pumpkin everything of course, but as a budget savvy kitchen maestro, I try to make sure I am enjoying all the fun flavors of fall but holding on to my money. Since I love utilizing all these pumpkin flavors in my kitchen, one of the best ways I have found to do that cheaply is to make my own homemade pumpkin puree, and to know how to substitute pumpkins when necessary.
With all the exotic foods that gets conjured up in my kitchen, I find that I have to keep a watchful eye on my food spending. Luckily for me, I live in a food haven, surrounded not just by the best and most affordable food. No lie, less than 10 minutes drive from me is a Caribbean supermarket, a European produce market that sells local produce alongside European specialty items, a Trader Joe’s, a Wegmans (which is like a giant Whole Foods), an African market and two “traditional grocery stores”. If I stretch the distance a little bit, I am about 15 minutes from two huge Asian markets, and one restaurant supply store that I happen to have “small business owner” access to, and let’s not forget Costco and Sam’s Club both of which are within 20 minutes distance. So needless to say, yeah, I am really blessed! With this blessing comes the need to practice a significant amount of restraint though. One of those restraints is choosing to generally stay away from the ease (and expense) of processed and conveniently packaged food.
This fall because I know I would be cooking with a lot of pumpkin and pumpkin flavored stuff, I knew I had to make my own homemade pumpkin puree to save myself some much needed cash!
Back in the day, when I lived somewhere else, I was limited to buying the pumpkin puree from a can, and while that is just fine, if you have access to fresh pumpkins, it is something you can easily make at home in your kitchen. So here are my tips to making the best homemade pumpkin puree from scratch to save you money:
1. Choose the right pumpkins:
While it might look like the best deal to grab a giant pumpkin so you can make the biggest batch of pumpkin puree, it is best to choose a variety that works well with cooking. Most of the huge pumpkins you see at you grocery stores are bred as carving pumpkins and are not the best tasting. They are still edible, but if you want to make the best pumpkin puree, I would suggest selecting a variety of pumpkins that are cooking friendly. I generally go with the rule: the smaller the variety of pumpkin the better tasting; go for pumpkins that weigh no more than 8 lbs. Go with varieties labeled “sugar pumpkin” or “pie pumpkin” if you find them. The variety I chose was labeled sugar pumpkin, but it was a baby bear pumpkin (according to the produce market owner).
2. Cook your pumpkins correctly:
I used a combination of steaming and roasting to get the perfect textured pumpkin puree. Cut your pumpkin into equal sized chunks, leaving the skin on. It is easier to take the skin off the pumpkin when it its soft than when it is hard. The chunks can be small or big, but the important thing is that it should be about the same size. If your pumpkin chunks are too small it can be frustrating to take the skin off. Place the pumpkins on a baking pan, and pour some water in the pan just enough to reach about ½ an inch up the pumpkins. Place in a preheated 400°F oven and bake until the pumpkins are tender. The bigger you cut the pumpkins, the longer it will take to cook through. So, I advise that you keep the pumpkins at a size that will not be too frustrating to take the skins off after it is soft, and not too large that it will take forever to cook.
3. Getting a smooth puree:
I recommend using either a stick blender or a potato to get the right smooth consistency for your homemade pumpkin puree. A regular blender works just fine too, it is just messier to get it out of the blender.
4. Storing your homemade pumpkin puree:
Simply place the pureed pumpkin in a plastic freezer zipper bag and freeze. It can last for up to 6 months frozen and up to a week in your fridge.
5. Other Substitutes for Pumpkins:
I know that in some parts of the world it might be difficult to get a hold of any variety of pumpkin. A good substitute especially in sweet dishes is orange sweet potatoes. Other like butternut squash, acorn squash, kabocha squash and some other sweet winter squashes. Each substitute has some differences in flavor, but it is usually not enough to “ruin” most recipes.
That’s it guys! Now go and conquer all your favorite pumpkin recipes including the best pumpkin drop donuts ever!