It’s time for the seasonal family trip to your local pumpkin patch. Drive east to Brentwood and visit Enos Farm or Smith Family Farm; take a day trip to the famous pumpkin patch at Swank Farm in Hollister and hitch a ride on a hay cart; or pile in the car and head west to Half Moon Bay for the Pumpkin Festival in mid-October. There’s nothing more fun than wandering through a field of handsome pumpkins just waiting to be made into scary jack o’ lanterns or cooked into a fresh loaf of pumpkin bread! And there’s nothing more rewarding than cooking with fresh pumpkin – the taste is unbelievably better than canned pumpkin. So forget the cans and make your own fresh and delicious pumpkin purée. It takes a little more time than picking up a can but it’s so easy and the kids will enjoy the process.
Cooking with Fresh Pumpkin
Visit the farmers’ market and choose sugar pie pumpkins or other similar varieties. Almost any kind of small pumpkin can be used for cooking, but ask your farmer what cooks the best. Small and sweet, with dark orange-colored flesh, the sugar pie pumpkin is perfect for pies, soups, muffins and breads. A medium-sized (4-pound) sugar pumpkin should yield around 1-1/2 cups of mashed pumpkin. This purée can be used in all your recipes calling for canned pumpkin. And while pumpkins are in season, you can bake several pumpkins, purée them, and freeze in containers for later in the season when you get a hankering for pumpkin bread or cookies.
Bake & Purée Fresh Pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkins in half and clean out the seeds and string. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil. Brush a little melted butter on the cut edges of the pumpkin. Place the sides cut side down on the cookie sheet. Cook for about 1 hour or until the pumpkin is soft. Cool. Remove the pumpkin skin. Cut into pieces and put through a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Don’t toss those pumpkin seeds! Roast them and season them for a healthy, vitamin-rich snack.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds
3 to 4 teaspoons melted butter or oil
Salt to taste (try seasoned salt, garlic salt, or other herb blends for a different taste)
Preheat oven to 300°F. Clean seeds. It’s ok to leave a little of the pulp or string on the seeds but remove the excess. Toss the pumpkin seeds with melted butter or oil and the seasonings. Spread to a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Try this delicious and sophisticated Pumpkin Soup to impress your guests. It’s also healthy for you – low in calories and full of nutrition!
Fresh Pumpkin Soup
8 cups chopped fresh pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
4 cups chicken broth
3 small tart apples, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh gingerroot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cool soup slightly; process in batches in a blender. Transfer to a large saucepan; heat through. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds. Makes 9 servings (about 2 quarts).
Nutrition Facts: One serving (1 cup) equals 102 calories, 2 g fat (trace saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 567 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein. Recipe & photo: Taste of Home magazine.