Pumpkins and Regina Overman have a long history together. Her family and friends honor her fall baking tradition by always saving them for her at this time of year.
“A couple years ago, a friend told me she had some and all I had to do was come get them,” Overman said. “When I got there, she had 21 large pumpkins … they filled my Jeep Compass.
“So the adage of, ‘Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it,’ had a new meaning for me,” Overman joked.
She kept the pumpkins in a cool area of her home from November until February, when she finally was able to finish pureeing all of them.
Another time, a friend gave her a pumpkin so large she had to use a hatchet to chop it into manageable pieces.
“Pumpkins and I have history and stories,” she said. “I like the feeling of taking a pumpkin from ‘patch to bread.’”
This entails taking a pumpkin, cooking it down to make a puree, then baking pumpkin bread.
“It’s so yummy, warm from the oven and slathered in butter,” she said.
While pumpkin bread is one of Overman’s favorites, another top choice is the surprisingly tasty pumpkin white bean hummus (see recipe below).
Smaller pumpkins usually are considered sweeter and better for cooking, but Overman uses them all. Bigger pumpkins tend to have more water, so they often require an extra step of straining to thicken the puree.
As far as color, Overman said the outside color of pumpkins can be deceiving.
“Surprisingly, I have found that some of the blue/blue gray pumpkins have the deepest orange flesh on the inside and make the darkest orange-colored purée,” she said. “Shocking, huh?”
Overman said to never let a fresh, whole pumpkin freeze, as doing this will cause the pumpkin to break down when it thaws and it won’t be good to eat.
Also, Overman does not recommend preserving pumpkin by canning. Freezing is the best way to preserve it.
Here are the steps she follows:
1. Wash the outside of the pumpkin to remove any dirt or debris that could transfer to the inside when chopping.
2. Cut the pumpkin into chunks and scrape off the seeds and fibrous insides. (Overman also saves the seeds to roast later).
3. Place the pumpkin in a roasting pan, cut side down, with about an inch of water in the pan. Cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until fork tender.
4. Remove the cooked pumpkin from the oven and let cool until you can handle it.
5. Then scrape the cooled pumpkin into a sieve/chinois strainer or a food processor. Press through sieve or process until smooth. If the pumpkin contains a lot of water, she also strains it to remove the excess water.
6. Label freezer bags with “Pumpkin” and the date. Place the now-pureed pumpkin into each bag, removing as much air as possible. Overman stores two cups of pumpkin into each bag, because this is the amount needed for her pumpkin bread recipe (see recipe below). Seal bags and lay flat in the freezer.
7. When ready to use the puree, remove from freezer, thaw in the refrigerator and use in your favorite recipe.
1½ cups sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
3/8 teaspoon each of allspice and cloves
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
3 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ tablespoon baking powder
½ cup applesauce
¼ cup oil
Mix sugar, salt and spices together; beat with eggs. Add pumpkin and mix. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together and gradually add to wet ingredients in bowl. Add oil/applesauce and mix well. Divide between two loaf pans.
Bake 45 minutes to one hour at 325 degrees. Bread is done when toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes, then remove from pans.
Pumpkin white bean hummus
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Place pumpkin puree and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth (about 30 seconds). Serve pumpkin spread with pita chips, tortilla chips or raw veggies.