The Pumpkin Disaster
I never canned pumpkin before but wanted to try. As a young mom, I wanted to be more resourceful with the bountiful blessings from my garden, but had no idea where to start. Thinking back to when my mother canned, I recalled the horror of splattered tomatoes all over the kitchen ceiling when the pressure cooker blew up. Pressure canning scared me to death. I asked around, and finally found a couple women willing to teach me the much safer (in my eyes) boiling water bath canning. All I needed was a water bath (a pot large enough for water to cover quart jars), and some jars. I got the canning kit from the local store, which included a canning recipe book and a couple of other useful tools.
Soon beautiful jars of red tomatoes brightened my cabinet shelves. Green beans and pickles were the next try. All was going so nicely and I was so proud of my canning accomplishments…that is, until the pumpkin incident. My family was the proud recipient of two leftover Jack-o-lantern pumpkins after the fall celebration at church. Not wanting them to go to waste, I quickly decided I would can them! We would have some wonderful fresh pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. My mouth watered thinking about it.
CARVING IT UP
Pumpkin rind can be ultra-tough, making it hard to cut. I got out my biggest butcher knife and dove right in with gusto. I removed the top and scooped out all the slimy seeds and pulp, saving the seeds for roasting. Didn’t want anything to go to waste! About an hour after painstakingly sawing the pumpkin into slices, the pumpkin was ready to be chunked into cubes and boiled.
COOKING IT DOWN
It took close to an hour to cook the cubes to a softened stage where they could be pureed into pulp. I wanted a smooth consistency of pumpkin to make directly into pie. I used my trusty food processor, blending a few chunks at a time, often having to add water. I should have known to put the puree back on the stove to heat it up. I didn’t. Nor did I add any other ingredients.
CANNING IT IN
Thinking I was finally ready to can the puree, I filled the jars right to the top, like I did to can tomatoes. With no pressure canner, I figured the open-kettle method would do just fine. Tomatoes usually take 20-30 minutes boiling time. So I roughly doubled the time, and let the jars of pumpkin boil in the water for 45 minutes. I was so proud and excited to accomplish this feat of canning pumpkin! A dozen gorgeous jars of golden yellow puree was ready for my food cabinet. All the lids made that wonderful popping sound indicating they were sealed.
OH-OH…. What’s that smell?
About a week later, I started smelling an atrocious odor coming from the food pantry. It was worse than the smell of rotten potatoes! Opening up the cabinet I found all twelve jars of pumpkin had exploded. Rotten pumpkin and broken glass covered every inch inside the cabinet. What a mess.
Number One Lesson Learned: Next time – freeze the pumpkin!
WHAT TO DO?
I also learned the USDA does not recommend canning mashed or pureed pumpkin. Pumpkin puree is too dense for the heat to reach the center while processing which renders the product unsafe. Only cubed pumpkin should be canned, they say, as it is a low-acid food. The cubed pumpkin must be pressure-cooked for at least 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. The older open-kettle method is hazardous. (USDA Complete Guide to Canning).
At least one-half inch of headspace must be left at the top of the jar. Pumpkin must not be packed tight as the ingredients swell. Hmmm. Didn’t know that. My stinky food cabinet proved it.
DOING IT RIGHT & EASY
Since that time, I have grown wiser about preserving pumpkin puree. Instead of all the cutting, slicing, cubing, boiling and pureeing, I simply bake the whole pumpkin. The whole scooped-out pumpkin goes into a pan with an inch or two of water. Bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 40-60 minutes. Smaller pie or sweet pumpkins (the size of a baseball or melon) are recommended for sweet pies, but large Jack-o-lantern pumpkins also serve well. Adding water and a little brown sugar to the inside of the Jack-o-lanterns before baking add to the sweetness and the texture and prevent it from becoming stringy or dry.
Scoop the insides out of the baked pumpkin and puree in a food processor or blender. While it cools, strain the pumpkin puree through a cheesecloth or sieve a few hours. (This will keep your pies from being over-watery).
EASY WAY? FREEZE IT!
Ladle the cooled pumpkin into freezer bags or containers and freeze! To make things even easier, make your pumpkin puree into “pumpkin pie filling.” Add the sugar and spices. When ready to make your pie, add the eggs and cream, and you’re ready for a delicious spicy treat! Pumpkin puree is also wonderful for pumpkin roll, cookies, cakes, bars and even soup!