Zero Waste Pumpkin for Holiday Baking

Sugar Pie Pumpkins photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

by Rebecca Rockefeller

Oh, how I love pumpkin. Even saying it out loud is fun. Pumpkin! It’s such a lovely, plump word attached to such lovely. plump fruit.

I used to stock up on canned pumpkin as soon as it went on sale before Thanksgiving so that I’d have enough on hand to last me through a year of pumpkin pies, breads, soups, and other creations.

Then came the first reports from the Environmental Working Group about BPA and canned food. That was enough for me to give up canned food, including my beloved pumpkin puree. Since we don’t yet use the precautionary principle to inform our public policy or regulation here in the United States, I do what I can to minimize my family’s exposure to substances that are suspected of causing harm.

Cinderella Pumpkin photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

If it weren’t for my desire to drop BPA from my family’s diet, I never would have tried cooking up my own pumpkins from scratch. I’d heard horror stories from my mother about how laborious and messy it was, and how the end result wasn’t all that different from the canned variety.

This is perhaps the first time my mother has been wrong. Cooking up your own pumpkin is easy, it’s not messy, and you’ll have delicious pumpkin puree when you’re finished. As an added bonus, pumpkins and other winter squash can generally be purchased without any packaging at all, making this a zero waste food.

Give it a try:

Assemble your pumpkins and/or other winter squash. Sugar pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, and Cinderella pumpkins all roast up beautifully, as do Hubbard  acorn, buttercup, and other baking varieties. Don’t use standard Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, though. They’re too watery and stringy, and not very flavorful.

I can fit one large tray of pumpkin at a time into my oven, and can bake enough pumpkin on a rainy Sunday to keep us eating all the pumpkin we want for a full year.

  • Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  • Grease a large, lipped baking tray or roasting pan – You want something with sides so that all the water released by the roasting pumpkin doesn’t pour into your oven.
  • Slice your pumpkin in half along its waist, so that the stem is intact on top of one half and the bottom/blossom end is on the other.

Pumpkin Sliced for Baking photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Snap off the stem and scoop the seeds and stringy center from each half. If you have chickens, they’ll love to eat all of this up, as will worms or any compost pile. You can roast the seeds for yourself, of course; I’ve never liked the hulls on this sort of pumpkin seed. Maybe next year I’ll grow pumpkins like these listed at Common Sense Homesteading that have hull-less seeds, perfect for pepitas.

Pumpkin Scooped Out for Baking photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Set the pumpkin halves cut side down on the greased baking tray.

Pumpkin Ready for the Oven photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Set the baking tray into the center of your oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. Check your pumpkins – They’re done when they’re soft to the touch and a knife slides easily through the skin and flesh. Small sugar pumpkins take 30-45 minutes in my convection oven; large Cinderella pumpkins and other thick-walled squashes can take 1 hour or more.

Fully Roasted Pumpkin photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Let the soft pumpkin halves cool enough that you can use your hands to flip them over.

Roasted Pumpkin Halves Flipped Over, Ready for Scooping Out photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of each half with a spoon, putting each spoonful into a colander set over a large bowl. It should be easy to remove all of the flesh, leaving the deflated skins forlorn on the baking tray.

All That’s Left After Baking and Scooping Out photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Let the cooked pumpkin drain until no more water drops from it.

Roasted Pumpkin, Draining and Almost Ready for Pies photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

  • Use it fresh or spoon it into muffin tins and freeze it for later. I use a 1 cup measure (240 ml) as my scoop so that I know how much pumpkin is in each frozen chunk.
  • Once each tin is frozen solid, tap the pumpkin rounds out and store them in a freezer bag or other container; if the rounds don’t pop out easily, run a bit of water over the back side of the tin to loosen their icy grasp on the metal. I wrap my frozen pumpkin in the same plastic freezer bags I’ve been using for years now, but I line the plastic with a sheet of natural waxed paper first so that pumpkin doesn’t touch the plastic.
  • When you’re ready to bake something up with your pumpkin, take out as many chunks as your recipe calls for plus one extra. Let them thaw overnight in the fridge or do that quickly in a microwave. You can discard any water that settles out around the pumpkin flesh, or stir it back in, depending on what sort of consistency you’re looking for; when I’m baking pies, I usually discard as much water as possible. If you’d like very smooth pumpkin, puree the thawed flesh before using it in your recipe. I find that some pumpkins are so smooth after roasting, they don’t need to be pureed.

You can use this in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin. According to Libby’s, a 15-oz can of pumpkin contains 1 3/4 cups, while a 29-oz can contains 3 1/2 cups.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s more about roasting time in the oven and draining time on the counter than anything else.

What will you do with your roasted pumpkin this holiday season?

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Categories: DIY, Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff, Zero Waste Guide

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4 Comments on “Zero Waste Pumpkin for Holiday Baking”

  1. November 1, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Can you believe it I NEVER heard of pumpkin puree…
    We can pumpkin here in vinegar, raw, only pasteurised in the jar.
    You can get it also in shops in glass jars, pickled in vinegar, but it’s more common to do it yourself at home and the varieties for sale are not many and not the best.
    CANNED pumpkin…who would have thought of that…
    Is this a very American thing? I never saw it when living in Australia…

    • November 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Yes, I think pumpkin puree is a very North American thing! We have some good friends who sailed away from the west coast of the US and landed in Australia, where they lived for a couple of years on their boat. While they were there, we compared pumpkin notes; they were delighted by all the new-to-them uses for pumpkin. I love how the same food is used so differently around the world! Want to swap some pumpkin recipes?

  2. November 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    I am talking myself into wait a few more days to cook my pumpkins, I have promised the little ones some pumpkin pudding soon. Great directions and you make it look so easy hopefully more will try to bake their own.

    • November 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Thanks! Yes, I’m waiting a few more days to start up with more pumpkin baking, too. Happy pumpkin pudding making – That sounds delicious!

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