pumpkins and pie

Preserve your pumpkin puree now so you're ready to make pies for the holidays.

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, and so it is likely that many have begun gathering supplies for the traditional feast that accompanies this holiday.

Pumpkin pie is a traditional dessert for many who celebrate Thanksgiving, so it is not uncommon to see grocery stores have their stock of canned pumpkin depleted.

But no need to panic. Pumpkin puree and squash puree can easily be created at home and are easily preserved by freezing for future use.

Sugar and pie pumpkins are winter squash varieties that are commonly used to make pumpkin pie, though other varieties may also be used. For example, butternut squash, Hubbard squash, golden delicious and neck pumpkins all tend to be sweeter and less stringy, and have more pleasant shades of orange color. Excess puree may be preserved by freezing, but should be limited to no more than 2 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer capacity per day.

Mature pie pumpkins or squash with firm rinds are ideal for puree.

Wash the produce, remove the pulp and seeds and then cut it into cooking-sized slices or chunks. Cooking may be done by the following methods:

— Boiling, in just enough water to prevent sticking.

— Steaming.

— Covering and baking in the oven until soft.

— Cooking in a pressure cooker.

When the slices or chunks are soft, cool them slightly and scrape the inside from the rind, then mash or puree the squash in a bowl or container.

Cool the container by placing it in cold water, stirring periodically.

Package the cooled puree in rigid freezer containers, leaving a half-inch of headspace. Seal the container and freeze.

Squash puree also may be put into zip-type freezer bags: Squeeze the excess air out of the bags, and then flatten them onto freezer trays until they’re solid. Once the bags of puree are frozen solid, they may be stacked for more efficient storage.

Squash also may be cubed and frozen via the following process:

Blanch the cubes in boiling water for about 3 minutes (just until heated through). Drain the cubes in a colander.

Chill the cubes in cold water in a colander to prevent the cubes from falling apart. Pat the chilled cubes with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Spread the cubes on a cookie sheet in a single layer.

Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 4 hours. Transfer the cubes to freezer bags and press out excess air before freezing.

Please note: Only cubed squash can be pressure-canned safely. Do not pressure-can mashed, pureed or grated squash at home. There are no research-tested pressure-canning recipes for pureed pumpkin that prove the amount of heat penetrating the product is adequate to eliminate the risk of Clostridium botulinum.

If you would like to pressure-can cubed pumpkin or other winter squash, instructions can be found on our Penn State Extension Let’s Preserve Squash and Pumpkin web page, at bit.ly/PSUPreservePumpkin.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stacy Reed is an educator with Penn State Extension in Lancaster, specializing in food safety and nutrition.