It's officially Fall now and I'm super excited. I love everything about Fall, the cool crisp mornings and mild evenings; the explosion of color from the changing trees and most of all the homey smell of baked goods and foods being prepared for storage. If there's one food that epitomizes the season for me it's the pumpkin. Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Pumpkin Soup and mashed pumpkin with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon (think mashed potatoes only yummier!). With all that pumpkiny goodness awaiting it was next to impossible for me to not want to store some up for the winter. So off I went on a fact-finding mission to figure out how to can those lovely little bundles of Autumnal joy... here's what I found. Canning pumpkin really isn't all that difficult, sure it will take a little more effort and you'll need a pressure canner but otherwise it's pretty straight forward. Let's get this little disclaimer out of the way first. The USDA recommends you do not home-can pumpkin puree, butter or pie filling; only can pumpkin cubes. So, now, let's get to it!
First, what you'll need:
A pumpkin (of course) but not just any ol' jack-o-lantern pumpkin... you'll need a Pie Pumpkin. These are a smaller, sweeter and less grainy textured pumpkin which you can either get at your local grocer, farmer's market or if you're lucky to have one near "pumpkin patch".
You'll also need:
A microwave, steamer or a baking sheet and oven. I use a steamer since I don't own a microwave and the oven just takes too long for me. Choose what works best for you.
A knife for cubing the pumpkin and preferably a serrated knife for cutting it open before you cook it.
A clean pot holder or oven mitt for holding the pumpkin while hot
Canning jars, lids and rims (properly sterilized with new lids)
Canning tools like the jar grabber/lifter, funnel and and a spatula or wooden spoon handle
A pressure canner large enough to accommodate the canning jars you've chosen and a timer.
Now for the fun part....
Step 1 - Get your pumpkin
Step 2 - Prepare the pumpkin for cooking: wash the exterior in cool or warm water - do not use soap! Cut the pumpkin in half with the serrated knife (a smooth bladed knife is more likely to slip and injure you) using a sawing motion. If you prefer use a small hand saw to cut through the tough skin.
Step 3 - Scoop out the seeds - use a melon baller or ice cream scoop to scoop out the seeds and stringy insides. SAVE THE SEEDS for replanting or roasting!
Step 4 - Cook it! There are several ways to cook the pumpkin. As I mentioned above I prefer steaming, but I'll list the methods below so you can choose what works best for you.
Method 1: Microwave
Remove the stem and put the pumpkin into a microwavable bowl, cut it into more pieces if the larger ones won't fit but remember that the fewer (and larger) the pieces the easier it will be to remove the skin later. Put a couple of inches of water into the bowl and cover it. Microwave in intervals until the pumpkin is tender - but DO NOT MASH or PUREE it. Be very careful to keep the pumpkin in tact.
Method 2: Steam on the stove top
I use a double pot steamer but you can also use an ordinary pot with a steamer basket. Place the pumpkin pieces into the steamer and steam for 20 - 30 minutes or until tender. Again, be careful not to mash the pumpkin. Save the cooking liquid, you'll use it for packing the jars later.
Method 3: Baking in the oven
This method takes the longest. Place the pumpkin cut side down in a covered oven-safe dish. Bake at 350F (200C) for 45 - 90 minutes or until tender. Test periodically with a fork.
Step 5 - Prepare your canner. Fill the pressure canner with at least 3" of water and bring to a boil.
Step 6 - Peel the pumpkin - The skin should easily peel off using a blunt knife in one hand and an oven mitt in the other.
Step 7 - Cut it - Cut the pumpkin flesh into 1-inch cubes (BE CAREFUL NOT TO SMOOSH THEM).
Step 8 - Pack the jars - fill the canning jars with your pumpkin cubes and fill them with the cooking liquid from steaming (or if you used a different method - boil a pot of water and use that) leaving 1" of headspace. Place the hot lids and rings on the jars.
Step 9 - Let's get canning... Take your jar lifter/grabber tongs and place the jars onto the rack of your pressure canner. If the water level has dropped below 3" add more hot water. Put the lid on the canner but do not place the weight or close the valve (depending on your type of canner).
Step 10 - Let it vent. Put the stove top heat on high and let the canner vent steam for about 10 minutes. This purges the airspace inside the canner.
Step 11 - Put the weight on or close the valve to let pressure build. Pressure should build to 11 to 13 pounds in a dial-type canner gauge or 10 to 15 pounds in a weighted gauge canner.
Step 12 - Process. Once you reach the correct pressure, start your timer and process the jars for the required time. I used 65 minutes for pint jars and 75 minutes for quart jars. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a consistent pressure in the canner. Also pressure requirements depend on the altitude. Here is a chart to help you determine the pressure and processing times if you are above sea level. Canning books or other online canning guides may have more helpful charts so keep that in mind.
Step 13 - Be Cool - After you've processed the jars for the required time, turn off the heat and let the canner cool down. After the pressure drops to zero wait 3 additional minutes and then remove the weights or open the valves to allow remaining steam to vent.
Step 14 - Remove the jars and let them cool. - using the lifter/grabber tongs, remove the jars and place them on a wooden cutting board or towel to cool. Do not touch or bump them. After the jars have cooled you should check the lids to make sure they have sealed properly.
That's it! Now you have yummy, homey pumpkin for the winter. You can eat them as is, puree them for pie filling or soup or you can mash them up like potatoes. Have fun!
P.S. Remember to label your jars! Here are some lovely printable labels from JES at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth.
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