August Pumpkin Harvest
Maybe it's just that I'm so used to pumpkins being associated with Halloween and Thanksgiving that it seems ridiculous to have harvested in August. Yet if you live anywhere near the Chicago area, you know that this year's gardening season has been ridiculous in it's own way. We had a quick start on the warmth (never to really drop down again) and copious amounts of rain early on. A fantastic start to an amazing summer harvest.
Back to the pumpkins.
When I planted the pumpkin this spring it was always in the hope that I would have enough for my aunt to make at least one of her incredible pumpkin pies (she is the one who always makes them for Thanksgiving. Always.). Imagine my surprise when somewhere around the end of June I was checking out the pumpkin progress and I started counting. My expectation was to get 3-4, perhaps 5 pumpkins if I were lucky. I was downright giddy with the thought of 13 pumpkins. The last week or so of August the pumpkins turned orange and the vines shriveled up. It was time to harvest. One sad little pumpkin felt light and sort of spongy and hollow, so I pitched it. The others sat on my dining room table for about two weeks while I worked up the courage and studied my schedule to find the time to process them.
In my mind, I had made the actual process of turning my pumpkins into puree difficult and complicated. After a short stint of online research I realized that I had worried for nothing. Except for maybe the time investment, but more on that later.
I have one oven. As much as I have lusted for a double oven and walk in pantry, sadly I have neither. So I would have to do this in batches. In other words, there goes my day. I started with the smaller pumpkins so I could fit more in to start. After pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees, I cut each one vertically from stem to bottom, scooped out the seeds and pulp (I put these aside) and lay them flesh-side down on a cookie sheet prepared with a light coating of non-stick cooking spray.
I let them bake for about 45-60 minutes in the oven. When they can be pierced easily with a knife they are done. While they were baking I set up what I needed to process the pumpkin into puree: a cutting board, sharp knife, food processor, large bowl, and freezer bags. I also cut and prepared two more pans of pumpkin to go in the oven when the current batch came out. I would have three batches in total.
When the pumpkin was done, I took it out and let it cool ever so slightly (no more than a couple minutes). Then I got to work separating the flesh from the skin. Unfortunately it wasn't as intuitive as I thought it would be, but after a few pieces I got a rhythm down and was able to consistently and quickly get the pumpkin flesh off the skin and into the food processor.
I pureed the pumpkin until all lumps were gone, transferring it to a large bowl so I could work on the remaining pieces before they cooled off (it's easier to remove the flesh from the skin while the pumpkin is still relatively hot, it gets more difficult as it cools). Once all the pumpkin from the first batch was pureed and in the bowl I started filling freezer bags. This is where the online directions diverged in their methodology. Some said to strain the puree in cheesecloth to get rid of excess moisture, others (like The Pioneer Woman) said it is not necessary. Bowing to the gods of sloth I decided against straining.
The first bag I filled, I measured the puree first so I could get an idea of how much I was putting in each bag. Once I realized that 3 heaping scoops of my scraper/scooper was about 2 cups, I was in business. I transferred approximately 4 cups of puree into each gallon size freezer bag.
You might want to take note of the fact that all these sites consistently said that each pie pumpkin would yield around 1 to 1 1/2 cups of puree. After processing the rest of the 12 pumpkins I wound up with 4 gallon size bags and 2 quart size bags of puree. That is a total of ~18 cups, which averages...*drum roll*... 1 1/2 cups of puree per pumpkin.
18+ cups of pumpkin puree!
Now here is where the kitchen math gets really interesting. If the average pumpkin pie uses approximately 2 cups of pureed pumpkin, then I have enough for 9 pies!!! The puree is stacked nicely in my freezer awaiting delivery to my aunt who is going to make at least one test pie to see how it works for her. I may keep a few cups of puree for pumpkin bread, or muffins, or pancakes.
Remember the seeds I told you I put aside? While the last batch of pumpkin was in the oven, I rinsed and cleaned the seeds and soaked them in saltwater for about 45 minutes.
Seeds getting a saltwater soak.
I rinsed them again and spread them out on two cookie sheets. This made for a fairly thick layer of seeds per sheet, but it is nothing to be concerned about.
I drizzled a few tablespoons of olive oil over each of the pans and stirred them with my hands (I found that trying to stir with anything else caused them to jump out and over the sides of the pan). The first pan got a sprinkling of sea salt and were stirred again. The second pan got a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning. They went into the still hot and running oven. After 10 minutes I checked on them and found they were starting to stick to the pan a little, so I gave each pan a bit of a shake to knock them loose and evenly distribute the seeds. I kept checking on them every few minutes until they started to look drier, shaking every time I opened the oven. After about 30 minutes some of the seeds were starting to brown, so they got a final shake and 5 more minutes in the oven. I took them out and let them cool, sampling one or two to make sure they were truly done. After they cooled I put them in clean mason jars to store, and had a little over 3 pints of roasted seeds in total. It took my family about 2 minutes until they pounced on this treat and even my picky eater loved them.
Originally I wasn't going to roast the seeds, but after cleaning the first pumpkin I realized that there was a treasure trove of seeds and I wasn't about to let them go to waste. I'm starting to think that pumpkins are designed to take over the world because there is no reason for the sheer multitude of seeds to be found in each pumpkin.
After killing the afternoon (and the better part of the evening) I was exhausted, but knew that I would have more of my harvest to preserve tomorrow.