November 1, 2020

Canned Pumpkin Filling Shortage or Not, Here's How to Make Your Own

Preparing Real Pumpkin for All Your Favorite Dishes

By Doug Kolmar

The leaves are falling, the smell of bonfires fills the air, you’ve switched your latte from iced to hot: it’s time for pumpkin everything!  But as with so many things in 2020, it’s not quite as easy to create all your favorite pumpkin treats this year because finding canned pumpkin is nearly impossible. Is there actually a canned pumpkin shortage? According to Raghela Scavuzzo, Associate Director of Food Systems Development with the Illinois Farm Bureau, "There is not a shortage [of pumpkins],” however, late planting and harvest due to a rainy season, combined with early demand, either from bored work-at-home bakers, or folks hoarding to ensure they would be able to make holiday pies, has created a temporary void on supermarket shelves.

But never fear. Because, in case you didn’t know it, the stuff in those cans, actually comes from real pumpkins! And it all works out, because the ones that are good for pie are probably the ones you rejected as too small to carve and put out on your porch on Halloween. Plus, if you buy a local pumpkin, you know it’s fresh and healthy, it’s safe (since you are doing the processing), and it benefits your local grower.

So how do you transform something that resembles a basketball into the warmly spiced custard filling of your favorite Thanksgiving pie?  It’s not as hard as you think.  Personally, I had never dared to attempt this before, but with no sign of the canned stuff, I decided to make the leap. And here, step-by-step, is what I did:

Step 1: Find a Pie Pumpkin.  If you are lucky like me, your local farm stand or grocer will have a sign that says “pie pumpkins,” but if not, they are often called “sugar pumpkins” or have “sugar” or “sweet” in the name.  They should be small --- 3-5lbs, and feel heavy for their size.

Pie pumpkins at Leary's Farm Stand, Saco, ME

Step 2: Remove the stem, and slice the pumpkin in half.

The skin is thick so you will need a good knife

Step 3: Remove the seeds and the stringy core.  You can scoop the seeds with a spoon or your hand, but you will probably need a small knife or potato peeler to remove the strings.  Either discard the seeds or save them for roasting.  Hopefully you, or your town, are composting and all the parts you are discarding can go in your compost bucket.

Saving the seeds for roasting is extra work, but worth it!

Step 4. Rub the halves of the pumpkin all over with canola oil and place face down on a baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour.

Step 5: peel away the skin from the flesh of the pumpkin, it should fall away pretty easily but you may need to scrape out the shell with a spoon.

You can also line the baking sheet with foil for easier cleanup

Step 6:  Let cool, then puree the roasted pumpkin in a food processor until smooth. The fresh pumpkin has more moisture than canned so make sure you let the pureed pumpkin drain for 15-20 mins before using.

You could also squeeze the puree in cheese cloth, if you have it, for faster draining

And there you go --- now it’s just like the stuff in a can.  Go forth and muffin, pie, soup, whatever!

Check out Local Food Anywhere to see who carries pie pumpkins near you.