Walking through the neighborhood, I keep seeing groups of small pumpkins sitting in the gutter or perched on top of leaf piles in the street, waiting to be picked up by Davis Waste Removal and taken to the landfill. I'm not talking moldy, old carved jack-o-lanterns here, but whole, unblemished and still perfectly good fruit that in many cases would make a tasty pumpkin pie (or two or three).
|Good pumpkins in a leaf pile|
Those big pumpkins we all buy for carving at the end of October aren't the best for eating (except maybe for the seeds), but the small sugar pumpkin varieties are grown for just that. Their flesh has a light, flaky texture perfect for turning into dessert, as opposed to the stringy insides of a large carving pumpkin. There's a good chance those 1 to 3 pound little pumpkins you bought to set on the mantel this month are good eatin'.
Pumpkins will stay fresh for at least a month and up to two depending on storage conditions. Ones that have been sitting on a shaded porch out of the rain and in the mild temperatures we've been having are probably fine. I just pulled two off our porch last night and baked them in preparation for some pie making.
|Lil' Pump-ke-mon Hybrid (l) and Sugar Pumpkin (r)|
With pumpkins this small, I remove the skin like I would do with an orange. Slice off the top and bottom, stand the squash back up on the now-flat bottom, and then take off the skin by curving your knife down the sides of the pumpkin the same way you would cut the peel off an orange. Then cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and pulp, and cube.
|Cubes of fresh pumpkin|
For a side dish, I prefer nearly-dry roasting because it browns and carmelizes the cubes and brings out the sugar. For baking (including freezing for use later in pies) I prefer to spread the cubes in a single layer in a baking dish, add a 1/4 inch of water to the bottom of the dish, and cover. 15-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven will do the trick, with larger chunks taking more time. When they're done, just cool, mash and use or freeze.
Of course some people think the best part of the pumpkin is the seeds, and my sugar pumpkins had loads of them. Some of what I baked yesterday I had just pulled off the vine, and I couldn't believe how easy it was to extract the seeds. None of that sticky, slimy mess you get when trying to remove seeds from a carving pumpkin. I'm not sure if it was the variety or the fact that I had just clipped it from the plant, but separating those seeds was a breeze and they were very clean. To roast them, toss with a small amount of oil, salt to your liking, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and put in a 250 degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
|Seeds from sugar pumpkins, before roasting|
So go rescue your cute, little pumpkins right now! With a bit of work you can have a pumpkin pie on the counter and some crunchy, tasty and healthy snacks for the lunch box.