Canned Pumpkin Shortage Ahead…Use Fresh Instead!

Pumpkins made the news headlines recently because of a predicted shortage of canned pumpkin this fall. Crop experts in Illinois have indicated that pumpkin yields are down by about 30% due to poor weather conditions.  Illinois is where most of the pumpkins in the US are grown. Canned pumpkin manufacturer Libby says those lower yields will result in a very short consumer supply of both canned solid pack pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling throughout the holiday season.

While not the largest crisis in your life, let’s talk about a very satisfactory and eco-friendly alternative to the problem. That is, make your own pumpkin puree for you pumpkin baking needs. 

First, a quick rundown of the two different canned pumpkin products that you may be missing out on this year:

Solid pack pumpkin is exactly what the label implies: it’s 100% pure pumpkin puree that has had some of the liquid removed to make it more “solid.” 

Pumpkin pie filling is different; it contains added sugar and spices.

To make you own pumpkin puree, you will need a fresh pumpkin and a little bit of time. There are many variety of pumpkins to choose from at farmers’ markets or farm stands, so you might start there. Rather than pick a large, Jack o’lantern size pumpkin, choose smaller sizes for baking. Small “sugar pumpkins”  will work best; I have used the lighter, creamy colored “cheese pumpkin” with very good results as well. If you are preparing your own pumpkin, plan on preparing several at one time.

pumpkins on a farmers market

Wash and cut the pumpkins in half;  scoop out any stringy pulp and the seeds: (set the seeds aside**).

Place the halves skin side up in a shallow baking dish.

Bake the pumpkin in a 375° oven until the skin is lightly browned and the pumpkin flesh is soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out cooked flesh and puree in a food processor or blender.

Note: Fresh pumpkin puree tends to be more watery than solid pack canned, and this could affect recipes that call for solid pack. You can drain off some of the liquid by placing the puree in a colander lined with a paper towel or basket-style coffee filter for 30 -60 minutes. This leaves more of the “solids” behind to use for baking. Use the puree within 3 days if refrigerated or freeze in 2 cup containers for future use.

Now that you have fresh puree pumpkin, use in your favorite pumpkin recipes or try this Pumpkin Pie recipe (my favorite) adapted from the American Egg Board:

2 cups pumpkin puree

2/3 cup sugar 

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/8 tsp. clove

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 – 13 oz. canned evaporate milk 

1 – 9” pie shell, unbaked

Optional- whipping cream

Blend together pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Stir in eggs and evaporated milk until well blended. Pour into pie shell.  Bake in preheated 350° oven for 60 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on rack before serving. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

If you baked off several small pumpkins at one time, you will have an extra quantity for later use. I find that preparing several at once provides enough puree to use throughout the winter. While there’s more effort involved with using the fresh pumpkin, the results are worth it. You might find, as I have, that home prepared pumpkins have a much fresher taste, making pies or other pumpkin products a real home run!

**Utilize those pumpkin seeds too! Rinse well and spread on a baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle a bit of sea salt or kosher salt on the seeds. Bake in the oven while your pumpkin is baking. Seeds will be lightly browned in 15-25 minutes.

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