the great pumpkin: puree and pepitas

This year I’m planning to make Thanksgiving dinner entirely from scratch– no cans, no prepackaged business, just 100% homemade– prepared from raw ingredients, with my own two hands. I know I can do it because last year I pretty much only opened one can (chili peppers to add a kick to corn pudding). I can totally get by without a can opener this year.

And since it’s pretty much a requirement that pumpkin make an appearance in at least one form or another during Thanksgiving (or in some cases it appears in multiple forms) I spent a little time this past weekend making my own pumpkin puree. It’s simple! All you need is a little bit of time and a good knife.

First you cut off the top of the pumpkin, and then slice it in half down the center. Next you scoop out the seeds (don’t throw them away though! We’re going to need them in a minute.) Then you cut the pumpkin halves in half and place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes (mine were kind of large so it took closer to an hour). Then walk away and go catch up on your magazine reading or DVR shows while it bakes.

After the pumpkin has finished baking, let it cool until you can handle it and remove the pumpkin flesh from skin using a knife. Place pumpkin pieces in a food processor or use an immersion blender (regular blender with a little water also works as does a potato ricer or potato masher) and pulse until no large chunks remain.

I then bagged it up in one-cup portions in small freezer bags so that I can use it whenever I want throughout the year. Two small pumpkins yields about 8 cups worth.

Now, the seeds! Rinse those beautiful things off to get as much stringy pumpkin removed as possible. Then spread out on a baking sheet to dry for several hours or overnight. (Word to the wise: do not attempt drying with paper towels as I did last year. Pumpkin seeds are very sticky and slimy and will stick to the paper towel like superglue. Not cool.)

Once the pumpkin seeds are dry, toss with a little olive oil and salt and any seasonings you so desire. (I’m a purist and keep it simple with just the olive oil and sea salt.) Then bake for about an hour until they are a nice toasty-shade of light brown and enjoy. Happy Halloween everyone!

Pumpkin Puree (from

  • 2 whole small pumpkins

Select a couple of small-ish pumpkins. Cut the pumpkin in half. With a spoon or a scoop, scrape out the seeds and pulp from the center. You don’t have to be too thorough with this.

Place all the seeds into a bowl (you can roast them later and make pepitas—see recipe below). Repeat until all the pumpkin pieces are largely free of seeds and pulp.

Place pumpkin pieces on a baking sheet (face up or face down, does not matter) and roast in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until pumpkin is fork-tender. They should be nice and light golden brown when done.

Peel off the skin from the pumpkin pieces until you have a big pile of the stuff. If you have a food processor, throw in a few chunks at a time. A blender will work, too, if you add a little water. Or you can simply mash it up with a potato masher, or move it through a potato ricer, or process it through a food mill. Or you can use an immersion blender if you have one of those.

Pulse the pumpkin until smooth. If it looks too dry, add in a few tablespoons of water during the pulsing to give it the needed moisture. (Note, if the puree is overly watery, you should strain it on cheesecloth or over a fine mesh strainer to get rid of some of the liquid.)

Dump the pureed goodness into a bowl, and continue pureeing until all the pumpkin is done.

You can either use this immediately in whatever pumpkin recipe you’d like, store it in the freezer for later use.

To store in the freezer, spoon about 1 cupful of pumpkin into each plastic storage bag. Seal the bag with just a tiny bit of an opening remaining, then use your hands to flatten out the pumpkin inside the bag and push out the air. Store them in the freezer until you need them.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas) (from

  • 1 whole pumpkin, gutted
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Any seasonings you want, such as cayenne, curry powder, etc. (optional)

As you gut the pumpkins, keep all the seeds—and guts—in a bowl. Throw them into a colander and rinse them under cold water, pulling away the chunks of pulp as you go.

Spread the rinsed seeds out on a baking sheet and allow the seeds to dry several hours or overnight. And beware: they’re quite sticky/slimy, so don’t place them on paper towels! Just leave them on the baking sheet and they’ll be fine.

When they’re dry preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Drizzle the seeds with a couple teaspoons of olive oil. Use your fingers to toss the seeds around to coat. Then salt and season the seeds to taste.

Bake them for an hour or so, until the seeds are light golden brown.

Pepitas need to be stored in an airtight container if they last beyond the first day.

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