Baking with Fresh Pumpkin

Sometimes I feel as if I’m unlearning fifty years of received wisdom. On the very rare occasion I wanted to cook or bake with pumpkin, I always reached for a can of Libby’s. Opening up an autumn pumpkin – an orange, seeded orb from the farm or orchard – simply never occured to me, until now. I am pretty positive it made a great deal of difference in the flavor and texture of the bread I baked. And it wasn’t very taxing. A little time-consuming, but hardly problematic. Here’s how I did it:

I bought a medium-sized baking pumpkin from the store. It was smaller than the jack-o-lantern variety and I read that these have thicker walls. I cut into it vertically with a serrated knife, which was challenging, but once I had made the cut halfway through I could easily pry apart the two halves. I scooped out the seeds and stringy bits, as you would for pumpkin carving, a step I find visceral and satisfying. I then placed the halves cut side down on a deep baking dish and baked for an hour and a half at 375 degrees.

Apparently, you can also boil or microwave the squash, but I thought this way seemed simple and homiest. It made the house smell fantastic. When the pumpkin was done baking, I squeezed out the flesh and pulled off the skin in big pieces and spun it in the food processor for a few seconds. Finally, I spread cheesecloth over a mixing bowl, added the pumpkin and gently squeezed, releasing a couple of cups of liquid. When the contents of the cloth seemed more pasty-solid than liquid, I measured, about three cups of pumpkin puree in total, which was more than I needed for the recipe I had – 15 oz, the quantity of a typical can.

Time is a luxury, I know. Baking anything for yourself, your partner, your family – whether it comes from a mix or you gather the eggs from your own chickens in your own chicken coop and wash it down with milk from goats and cows you find grazing in your back pasture- is what counts. Because it feels good to do it. The sense of accomplishment, the boasting and Martha Stewartness of it, is all secondary to the fact that fresh, homemade goods taste amazing, still warm from the oven with a pat of cold butter perched on top. This pumpkin business will make you happy, and that’s why I suggest trying it.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. When I worked at a posh bakery, we made pumpkin pies with enormous organic squashes, oven-steaming the great craggy chunks of squash, then painstakingly peeling off the skin from the steaming pumpkin flesh. Those were some mighty good pies.

    But they weren’t any better than the incredible pumpkin pie I make at home borrowing a method from Cook’s Illustrated: I use canned pumpkin but cook it on the stovetop ’til it’s thick and shiny, which (their blind-tasting notes confirm) cooks off any faint tinny taste that canned pumpkin might have.

    Besides, I love the label. This year, I’m going to mat it and hang it in the kitchen.

    I respect the devotion and time that real from-scratch cooking entails, and we all get to decide for ourselves which tasks reward our efforts and which don’t.

    Thanks for the reminder, too; I haven’t made pumpkin bread yet this autumn. This week for sure!

    1. this is all a new experiment for me, so I appreciate your advice and experience, Elsa. That label is awesome! I used a recipe from Downeast for my pumpkin bread and it was super moist fantastic.

  2. I never had to use the fresh stuff either until I moved to Dublin – you can’t get it here! Now I buy up lots of pumpkins at Halloween and bake, scoop, and freeze flat and they usually last me til Christmas. Then I break out the butternut squash since it produces the same effect!

  3. I just tried this for the first time last week, and you are so right about it feeling good. I believe my FB status was “Suck it Betty Crocker” hehe.

    By the way, great tip from Cook’s Illustrated Elsa. Gonna have to try that.

  4. Did you happen to sample the pumpkin before turning it into pie filling? My wal-mart -yuck, I know, but it’s all we have locally- has a huge box of these pie pumpkins, and a weenie little crate of other winter squash. I love winter squash in savory preparations, and was wondering how interchangeable pie pumpkins were, tastewise with butternut or acorn. the pie pumkins are on sale right now, and the other squash about triple the price.

    1. I did sample some and thought the texture was a little grainy – it wasn’t the punch of delicious I thought it would be. I am experimenting with some savory recipes in the From Away test kitchen. When we lived in Mexico we food-shopped at WalMart All The time. which was unexpected.

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