Saving the Harvest - Pumpkins

January 10, 2016

When doing a good job of hardening off the fall vine crops, it's possible to put off processing the winter squash and pumpkins until after the busyness of the holidays. Successfully doing so actually starts with allowing the fruits to ripen before cutting them from the vine to field cure for a week or two then moving them inside before any hard frost. After dry wiping, we typically bring them into our sun room where cool nights and warm days reduce their moisture content. After careful packing in bushel baskets, they are removed to the cold room. One year we tried a bleach dip but they didn't seem to last any longer before over ripening. Surprisingly, they have lasted well this year, showing no signs yet of rot spots. It's surprising because only recently have we been able to get our cold room reduced to its 40 degree winter temperature. Having no way to cool except the outside air, the long warm fall has worked against us.


With an abundance of winter squash in the freezer from last season, all that crop was sold or given away and only pumpkins need to be processed. And there's NO pumpkin left in the freezer for pies or market muffins! First, the stems are removed, using the handle of a large knife to knock them off. Then they are washed, scrubbing especially the stem and blossom ends where dirt may stick. After cutting in half and removing the seeds they'll go into the large turkey pan. A bit of water will help them steam and not stick to the pan bottom and into the oven they go at 300-325. Baking will not take long and I work on other projects while they are cooking. Testing with a knife tells when they are soft and done so they are removed from the oven and uncovered to cool for at least an hour.


Using a spoon it's easy to scoop and scrape the flesh from the skins. Set into my largest bowls, any excess water that forms can be carefully poured off.  If needed I mash it a bit but then it goes by batches into the food processor to puree smooth. This method results in no strings! The puree is measured into freezer containers, frozen solid, then removed to a plastic bag for long term storage. This way allows for reusing the freezer containers and not have them tied up in the freezer. With the pumpkin puree pre-measured this way, a "chunk" can be removed from the freezer the night before needed and it's recipe-ready the next morning!


Some years, when the fruits are especially wet, the puree will need to be hung and drained with a cheesecloth to achieve the correct puree thickness. This can be a difficult judgement call and if the puree seems too soupy when unfrozen it may need to be drained again or in some recipes other liquids can be reduced. Often unfreezing in a measuring pitcher will allow for carefully pouring off the excess liquid.


One thing to note - don't put the seeds in your compost bin unless you want to be removing volunteers from the garden next summer. This can be especially annoying if the compost is spread where desired plants with similar seed leaves are planted. It's very hard to tell one from another! And the volunteers will be worthless crosses if the pumpkins grew with summer squash/zucchini. If only pumpkins grew, give it a try and leave some volunteers - they are strong seeds to last the winter!



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