Four pale orange, white spotted pumpkins sit on a stainless tabletop, with pale blue early morning light on the trees and pastures in the distance.

How To Cook and Eat Pumpkin (and Butternut)

Farmer Luca with a large wheelbarrow full of green skinned pumpkins at ARTfarm.
TBT: Farmer Luca with a large wheelbarrow full of green skinned pumpkins at ARTfarm.

The pumpkins and butternut squashes of winter are so tempting at the farmer’s market. Purchased whole, they make lovely table decorations and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. The warm orange hue of the edible flesh is cheerful, sweet and packed with vitamin A and fiber. Calabaza (West Indian) pumpkins, typically fat and round with vertical ribs and a deep green skin, are a traditional staple of Ital and Caribbean cuisine and are usually sold by the slice. Smooth buff-colored butternuts, sold whole, are extra sweet in flavor. At ARTfarm we love growing all of these and also squat little Asian pumpkins with thin bumpy skins, and ancient heirloom Seminole pumpkins, super sweet.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine pumpkin is used for a variety of balancing purposes, including controlling blood sugar (diabetes) and as a decongestant. But with all these varieties and uses they can feel intimidating to get started with, particularly whole ones.

Getting Started

How, one wonders, will I ever manage to pierce that thick and unyielding exterior without a chain saw?

We are obsessed with this pumpkin this winter! Offspring of Calabaza Taina Dorada from PR’s Desde Mi Huerto.

Caribbean pumpkin varieties are generally not quite as thick-skinned as the pumpkins of the great cold north. The rinds of pumpkin varieties bred for tropical places are generally so thin and tender (once cooked), in fact, that we often don’t bother to peel before eating. A very nicely sharpened 6″ or 8″ chef’s knife can easily cut off a slice of squash or halve the thing. If you’re still feeling apprehensive, resting the clean pumpkin on a folded up kitchen towel for padding can help keep it from tipping, slipping or sliding. Simply plunge the tip of your knife into the pumpkin or squash near the stem end, blade out, and then brace the top of the pumpkin as you swing the knife handle down in a masterful arc along the voluptuous curve of your squash toward its bottom. (If this isn’t easy, go back and sharpen your knife.) Voila! Repeat at least once more to release a delectable chunk from the whole. You can also cut it in half around its equator for easy roasting. And there is no law against whole roasting a pumpkin, although it may take a bit longer. Wrap it in foil and tuck it into your bonfire!

When everything else in 2020 has gone sideways you’ll rely on this nutritious, rich tasting winter vegetable. It’s sweet and tastes great in EVERYTHING.

Now to prepare:

Pumpkin can be steamed, roasted, fried, shredded into dishes, or eaten raw. The basic preparation after washing and cutting, is to:

  1. Scoop out the innards. (Save the seeds – clean them off, then plant in your garden, or toss with oil and salt and roast for a snack!) You can stop here and eat it raw or chopped and sauteed or grated onto things, and it will keep a week or more in your fridge. – OR –
  2. Roast up a halved squash or whole pumpkin slice in a buttered or oiled baking pan. 350ºF oven ’til easily pierced with a fork, maybe 20-60 minutes depending on the size of your pieces. – OR –
  3. Steam it cut side down in half an inch of water in a covered skillet until the skin is soft/piercable with a fork. Then get creative: here are at least ten quick and efficient ways to add pumpkin to your meals:
  1. Eat a savory moist warm slice, right out of the pan or oven – like a slice of pizza with salt and pepper (skin too!)
  2. Eat a sweet warm slice, right out of the pan or oven – like pie, drizzled with a little melted butter, pie spice and coconut sugar! Easiest dessert EVARRR!
  3. Scoop a few generous spoonfuls of roasted or steamed pumpkin into any slow-cooking savory dish (OMG tomato sauce! stew! mac & cheese! rice! casserole! beans!) to sweeten and thicken sauce
  4. Finely grate raw pumpkin into your morning oatmeal, pancakes or waffle batter with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg before cooking; toss a few pecans on top for a holiday-pie flavored breakfast
  5. Save in the fridge and toss big spoonfuls into a smoothie or other snack
  6. Process steamed or roasted pumpkin further into purée and use as canned pumpkin, for a creamy soup base, or freeze in an ice cube tray for future inspiration
  7. Feed it to babies!
  8. Try eating pumpkin raw: trim off the skin, slice the flesh thin like a tortilla chip using a mandolin, and have it with garlicky hummus!
  9. Instead of roasting or steaming whole or large slices, chop slices into bite-sized chunks and add to sautées and stews, beans, stir-fry…no need to remove the skin
  10. Use in cakes, custards, cookies, breads, muffins, homemade pasta, ravioli… ours never lasts that long…
  11. Make pumpkin pie.

A few farmer favorite recipes:

DIY Fresh Pumpkin Puree

  • Difficulty: easy peasy. Can you boil water?
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You can stop buying canned pumpkin and make your own fresh hot puree in about 15 minutes start to finish. But good luck making it all the way to puree… it smells so amazing, we always end up eating it first. Reserve any leftover steaming or straining liquids for cooking, or to make your pooch happy.

Ingredients

  • Fresh pumpkin
  • Water
  • A skillet or roasting pan

Directions

  1. Wash the pumpkin skin. Carefully, with a large sharp knife or cleaver, cut into halves or quarters, removing seeds (they are a great snack roasted with salt!).
  2. Steam the pieces cut side down in half an inch of water in a covered skillet for 10-12 minutes or until the outside skin is soft/easy to pierce with a fork, and then…
  3. Scoop the soft cooked flesh from the skin. Mash it with a masher, blend or food process it for a smoother puree if desired, and use a strainer or nut milk bag to remove some of the moisture if you’re using it for baking.

Grandma's Midwestern Pumpkin Pie

  • Servings: never enough, but maybe 8 slices?
  • Difficulty: Easy as pie. The crust is always the hard part.
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An old family recipe from Christina’s midwestern roots, updated a bit. A cold slice of this pie is the Best. Holiday. Season. Breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin (1 medium-small cooking pumpkin, roasted and pureed)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or 1 12oz. can evaporated milk) (or extra-rich coconut milk)
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 local farm fresh eggs plus the yolk of a third egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon or sour orange zest
  • 1 9″ pie crust of your choosing. Does not have to be pre-baked.

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 425ºF.
  2. In a large mixing bowl or your blender, beat the eggs, then add sugar and spices. Mix in the pumpkin purée and stir in the cream. Mix well. I like to use the Vitamix for this, especially since I’m always making a double batch.
  3. Pour the filling into your favorite (unbaked, unless you insist) chilled pie crust (frozen is fine) and bake for 15 minutes at 425ºF, then lower heat to 350ºF and bake another 45-55 minutes. Watch the edges for over-browning and use a foil collar or pie protector to keep them from burning. Bake until the center is slightly jiggly but mostly firm and a pie tester comes out mostly clean but not necessarily dry.
  4. Cool the pie on a farmhouse windowsill with gingham curtains near the railroad tracks for about two hours. It will deflate as it cools and develop some lovely cracks to hold the whipped cream.

Nutrition

Per Serving: 420 calories; 29 g fat; 39 g carbohydrates; 5 g protein; 125 mg cholesterol; 310 mg sodium.

Park Slope Thai Pumpkin Custard 'Sankaya' Dessert

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Getting fancy, but you can do it!
  • Print

This tradititonal Thai street food is a sweet custard is steamed inside a small hollowed out pumpkin or squash, and you eat the entire thing, tender skin and all.

Before we were farmers, we lived in Brooklyn NY. There was a family-run Thai restaurant in a little upstairs space on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. We would walk many chilly blocks there from our apartment in Sunset Park/Atlantic Avenue in the winter to eat some spicy Thai chili soups, and would always end the meal with this amazing dessert when it was available. Some dishes you just never forget! This recipe is best with acorn squash and other smallish, squat-shaped pumpkins.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole sweet baking squash about 2-3 lb or 6-8″ diameter (or several smaller ones)
  • 10 cups of water for steaming
  • 4-5 large farm fresh eggs
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk, full fat
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar (traditional recipes use palm sugar)
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • bamboo or stainless steamer basket, to hold the whole pumpkin; large lidded pot to hold the steamer for cooking; you could probably do this a lot faster in an instapot, or other pressure cooker?

Directions

  1. Wash a 6-8″ diameter (2-3 lb) whole pumpkin or other winter squash. Cut an outward-angled circle around the stem end as if you were making a jack-o-lantern for Halloween. Remove the top and scoop out the soft core of seeds and fiber. If needed, slice a very thin layer off the bottom to allow the pumpkin to sit flat.
  2. Start your 10 cups water to boil in a large steamer.
  3. Beat the eggs with the spices, vanilla, sugar and coconut milk until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Pour the custard mixture into the hollowed out pumpkin.
  5. Place the pumpkin and its stem-lid (to the side) in the steamer basket in the pot once the water is boiling. Don’t put the pumpkin’s own lid back on itself, but cook it alongside. Place the lid on the pot and steam for about 45 minutes, or until a fork comes out of the custard clean.
  6. Remove the steamer basket from the pot and let the pumpkin cool.
  7. When you are ready to serve, use a large sharp knife to cut a wedge out of the pumpkin like a pie. The custard should be firm. Serve at room temperature. The entire slice is edible, including the skin. Refrigerate any leftovers. Yeah, right!

Nutrition

We’ll work this out and get back to you.

6 thoughts on “How To Cook and Eat Pumpkin (and Butternut)

  1. Thank You for the wonderful suggestions and guide for preparing.
    I also have to tell you that the watermelon that I got last weekend was soooo sweet! Had huge white seeds and when I finished cutting it up …. realized the ‘skin’ was very thin…. so cut it up and pickled it in a jar of ‘bread-n-butter’ pickle juice. They are amazingly good! 😋

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