It was my son’s first Halloween so we took him to a local pumpkin patch to find a pumpkin to use to make his Jack o’ Lantern. At the same time, we decided to buy a few small gourds and smaller pumpkins to decorate our apartment balcony with. When I was paying for my selections, the farm owner told me that I had chosen a Cinderella Pumpkin, the type of pumpkin that was rumored to have been turned into a carriage by a certain Fairy Godmother. I smiled and looked down at the box of squashes I had set on the farm table she used as a counter, my eyes resting on the pumpkin she had indicated. She then told me that Cinderella Pumpkins were the best pumpkins for making pumpkin pie. I looked at it again. Well, then this was going to be the best pumpkin pie I had ever made, I figured, with a sprinkling of fairy dust added…
I don’t remember when I first began cooking down our Jack o’ Lanterns to use them in pumpkin pie. I know it wasn’t in Hawaii. The afternoon sun literally melted our pumpkins to slimy, orange goo by the end of the day following Halloween. I do remember how I felt the first time I tasted pie made with fresh pumpkin. On the spot, I swore that I would never again use canned and I never have.
My first baby was born two days before Thanksgiving. They let me take him home 24 hours later which was the day before Turkey Day. I had spent the last week of my pregnancy, thinking I had two weeks since I wasn’t due for another, getting ready for Thanksgiving Dinner. We had the turkey and all of the fixings and a freezer full of pumpkin. My husband and my dad took it from there and cooked the rest of the meal while I took care of my infant son. I had no idea how that pumpkin and those Thanksgiving leftovers would help me keep my strength up that first week of motherhood. It sounds strange, but other than leftovers, all we ate was Chicken and Couscous (because it was fast and I could make it while wearing the baby), Chicken Noodle Soup (because it was fast and I could make it while wearing the baby), and Pumpkin Pie (because it was fast and I could make it while wearing the baby). I threw together so many whole wheat crusted Pumpkin Pies that first month because they had all the nutrition I needed as a nursing mother with a baby who only catnapped, grabbing a slice for breakfast or lunch, snacks or even dinner. What I didn’t realize was that all that pumpkin was the reason my baby only catnapped and had such horrible gas pains that would rack his little body. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Live and learn. I wish I’d had a baby manual.
Ironically, I have the most fond memories, as most new mothers do, of those first weeks getting to know my sweet little guy. I was exhausted, weepy, and irritable, but would sit holding him for long evening hours with a fire blazing and Sarah McLachlan singing us both to sleep. It was the holiday season and I was a new mother. The magic never seemed to end. I know that when I’m an old woman sitting in my rocking chair, the memory of that time will be one of my most treasured.
It’s very easy to cook down a pumpkin. I made the mistake the first few times of boiling cut up pumpkin chunks. I have even attempted to peel a raw pumpkin before boiling. What a mess! It wasn’t until I pulled a baked acorn squash from the oven, one of my favorite things, that I realized how silly I’d been. From then on I have been baking my pumpkins and easily peeling the skin off before pureeing. So easy. Another problem with boiling was that the pumpkin would take on a lot of water which, in turn, made a runny pie filling.
Wash the outside of the pumpkin with vinegar water to remove any field dust or bacteria that may be on the surface.
To cut the pumpkin in half or in sections, insert the tip of a very sharp chef’s knife into stem end of the pumpkin and slide it down. It’s tough, but doable.
With a large spoon, scrape out the seeds and stringy pith.
Place the pumpkin pieces on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until tender, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the thickness and type of pumpkin. If you turn pumpkin or squash halves cut side down, they retain more water and make for a runnier filling. Cut side up allows the moisture to evaporate during baking but can make for brown edges. If you quarter them or cut into wedges you get the best of both methods because they can lay on one side to let steam escape but the majority of the inside surface is facing down.
Allow the pieces to cool so that they can be handled.
Gently peel off the skin.
Cut the pumpkin pieces into smaller chunks.
Puree in a food processor until smooth.
Freeze what you don’t immediately use for pie. I freeze my pumpkin in 2 cup portions because my recipe calls for 2 cups of pumpkin per pie.
Use in any Pumpkin Pie recipe.
Note: You can use a carved Jack o’ Lantern to make a pie. If you put it out just before Halloween evening and bring it in the next morning, it should be sanitary enough to use with a good vinegar wash before baking. The temperatures are so cool on Halloween where I live that they are kept at a cooler temperature than my refrigerator when they are on display.
I have noticed that every pumpkin is different. Some contain more water than others so the water content of a filling will vary each time you make it.