If you’d rather open a can of pumpkin than cook a pumpkin from scratch, it’s probably a good idea to get on down to the store and stock up.
Heavy rains in the Midwest have caused a shortage. Libby’s cans about 80 percent of the canned pumpkin market in the United States and their production is way down.
Roz O’Hearn, a spokesperson for Libby’s parent company, Nestle USA, says that rainy weather in Illinois cut the crop by half compared with 2014. O’Hearn thinks the supply will hold out through Thanksgiving but when the store sells out, there won’t be any more until next year’s crop comes in. “We won’t have much ‘reserve’ stock — if any at all — to carry us into the new year,” O’Hearn told NPR.
Lack of pumpkin puree on store shelves isn’t likely to be a huge inconvenience to Easter dinners or Memorial Day cookouts but in a lot of households, Christmas needs a pumpkin pie just as much as Thanksgiving does.
This is perhaps the year to give cooking your own pumpkin a try. The first step is to buy a pie pumpkin which is totally different from a carving pumpkin. No, you can not recycle your jack o’lantern into a couple of pumpkin pies. Well, you could but results would not be the best. The situation is not that dire.
There are plenty of pie pumpkins around. Dobson Market on Business 601 has a big supply as do most of the produce markets around town. In Dobson a pie pumpkin will set you back $4.99 but one of the bigger ones will make a whole lot of pies.
Pie pumpkins are usually clearly labeled as pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins. They’re lighter in color, not bright orange like jack o’lanterns and can be a more irregular shape, kind of squat or tubular. Don’t worry about that. You’re just going to cup it up.
Five ways to cook your pumpkin
Option 1: Basic Baked
Place halved pumpkin, cut sides down, in a 350°F. oven for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. Cool, then scrape out the tender flesh with a spoon; discard rind.
Option 2: Boil
Halve and peel pumpkin, then cut the flesh into uniform cubes and boil until tender, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of cubes.
Option 3: Microwave
Place pumpkin pieces in a glass bowl; cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Cook on HIGH until tender, about 15 minutes. Move the pieces around twice during cooking. Cool, then scrape out the tender flesh with a spoon; discard rind.
Option 4: Roast Whole
Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers as you would for a jack o’lantern. Lower the oven rack enough that the pumpkin will fit in your oven. Roast in a preheated 350°F. oven for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. You can scoop out the flesh or use the pumpkin as a vessel for cooked rice or couscous stuffing.
Option 5: Slow Cooker
Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp. An ice cream scoop or a melon baller works well for getting the stringy pulp out. Cut pumpkin into pieces, place in slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until skin is soft and easy to piece with a fork. Puree in a blender or food processor. You only have to cut the pieces small enough to get the pumpkin into the slow cooker. If you have a very small pumpkin and a very large slow cooker, there’s no reason not to cut it at all.
Once your pumpkin is cooked, you can just mash it up with a potato masher or whatever implement you want. but if you want it smooth like canned pumpkin, you will need to run it through a food processor for a few seconds. The processor will break up the fibers and make the puree silky smooth.
Unless you need a dozen pumpkin pies for tomorrow, you’re going to need to do something with all that pumpkin you’ve just cooked. Freezing is one option. Freeze the pumpkin in the quantities that you will use it. A lot of recipes call for either one cup or two cups of pumpkin so those are good quantities to use. Two cup batches will work for recipes that call for a can of pumpkin. Use Ziploc sandwich bags for one cup batches and quart Ziploc bags for two cup batches. A handy trick to get air out of the bags if you don’t have a vacuum sealer is to zip the bag shut leaving just enough room for a straw in the opening. Suck the air out of the bag and in one swift motion, pull the straw out and seal the bag. Low tech but it works.
It’s also possible to can pumpkin yourself. If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, this is a great option. Once you get this down, you will never need Libby’s or canned pumpkin ever again.
When news of a canned pumpkin shortage surfaced earlier this week, Mount Airy News reader Katie Billings was unfazed. Billings already had a pantry full of canned pumpkin and shares her method of canning here.
She advises that these are the directions from the USDA and that it is important NOT to cut corners. Pumpkin is so dense that these directions must be followed or it will spoil easily. Due to the risk of botulism, don’t attempt a boiling water bath. Pressure canning is the only acceptable means to can pumpkin.
Wash, peel, and cut into manageable hunks. Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes. Cover with water in a pot and boil for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving the hot liquid. Ladle hot pumpkin into glass jars. Do NOT press down in jars. Leave 1/2 inch of headroom in jars.
Optional: add 1/2 teaspoon of canning salt to pints, 1 teaspoon of salt to quarts.
Add reserved cooking liquid to jars leaving 1/2 inch of headroom in jars.
Place lids and rings on jars. Place in pressure canner. Vent (exhaust) canner for 10 minutes. Close petcock. Pressure process at 10 pounds. Pints-55 minutes, quarts-90 minutes.
To be preserved properly and safely, it is crucial to follow the directions above and can the pumpkin in one inch chunks. You will need to puree it when you open the cans to use them. Do not attempt to can pureed pumpkin.
That’s all you need to know to survive a shortage of commercially canned pumpkin. Good luck.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.