Want to cook with fresh pumpkins at home? Learn the anatomy of a pumpkin and how to buy & store pumpkins for eating and for decorating. Plus, fantastic sweet and savory pumpkin recipes!
This article was updated with new pictures and content on 10.19.2017.
I don’t like Halloween. I am extremely prone to vivid nightmares, and if even one kid approaches the door with extraordinarily realistic zombie make-up on, it can do me in for the night As a result, I never really participated in Halloween activities as a child. My first trip to a pumpkin patch was after college, my first time carving a pumpkin was when I went to stay the night with an out-of-town friend in High School, and my first taste of pumpkin pie wasn’t even until a few years ago!
Whether you’re a pumpkin newbie, or you’re just looking for fresh inspiration with some new and exciting pumpkin recipes, keep reading to learn how all about how to buy the right kind of pumpkins for cooking at home!
What Is A Pumpkin?
Pumpkins are a type of squash believed to originate in United States. Cultivated primarily for decoration, they are most widely known for pumpkin pie, a staple of Thanksgiving. They are rich in alpha & beta-carotene, which helps your body make Vitamin A, as well as lutein, which helps with vision.
Pumpkins are one of the most popular crops in the United States as well as a popular pastime for farmers and gardeners to compete for the largest one every year – growing a single one up to 2,000 pounds! Pretty much the entire vegetable is edible; from the seeds, to the flowers, to the flesh, making it an excellent crop for complete utilization.
How To Buy Pumpkin For Cooking
The kind of pumpkin you buy greatly depends on how you are using it: is it decorative, or is it for consumption? If you are setting it out on your front stoop or carving frightful designs into it, you’ll want a jack-o-lantern variety (aka: a carving pumpkin.) If you’re going to be eating it, you want to get a sugar pumpkin (aka: a pie pumpkin.)
Carving pumpkins are bred to be large and decorative, making their flesh watery and bland. As a result, they don’t work well for making your own pumpkin purée or cooking pumpkin recipes.
“How do I know what makes a good pumpkin?”, you ask. Here are my tips for choosing the best pumpkin for your needs, whether decorative or for cooking with.
- Firm. Find a pumpkin that isn’t squishy and doesn’t give when you apply a little pressure.
- Skin. If it has shiny skin, that means it isn’t ripe. Look for one with a matte and slightly dull appearance. If it’s starting to look hazy, that means it’s beginning to go bad.
- Weight. You want it to feel heavy for it’s size; test it against others of similar size.
- Stem. Make sure part of the stem is intact. This helps prevent it from wilting from moisture loss.
- Spotless. Make sure that there are no brownish spots (this doesn’t include the area where it touched the ground) and that there are no cracks.
- Clean. Look for white mold or fuzz growing the stem or the blossom end of the pumpkin. Be vigilant because it can blend in or hide in texturing.
How To Store A Pumpkin Whole
Pumpkins, like most winter squash, are extremely low-maintenance. As long as you haven’t cut into them they should last at least a month in a protected environment like your kitchen. If you leave them exposed to the elements, however, their shelf life and quality will diminish greatly. For best success, keep your pumpkin away from moisture and purchase your pumpkin within a week or so of it’s planned use.
Keep in mind, the longer the pumpkin has been off the vine, the more moisture and flavor it will lose. While this isn’t a problem if you’re using them in a beautiful tablescape, it can drastically effect the outcome of your pumpkin recipes.
How to Store Raw Pumpkin
Whether you only used half of your pumpkin, or you need to use it up in a hurry, or you want to stock up during a sale, use these guidelines to determine the best way to store raw pumpkin. (You know you have favorite pumpkin recipes you want year round – mine is pumpkin tacos.)
- Refrigerator. Store cut up raw pie pumpkins in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. When you are ready to use them, double check to make sure that they haven’t started to crack or dry out to ensure the best flavor.
- Freezer. You can also freeze it in chunks for 3-6 months in an airtight container. Depending on what you are making (like pumpkin purée), you may find that storing it cooked preserves the flavor better than freezing it raw.
How To Store Cooked Pumpkin and Pumpkin Purée
- Refrigerator. Once cooked, pumpkin can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Depending on how you have chosen to cook your pumpkin, reheating it may give you an overcooked texture. If you plan to reheat your pumpkin, I recommend sautéing it or turning it into purée for best results.
- Freezer. If you would like to store your cooked pumpkin long-term, store it in an airtight container for up to one year.
- Pieces: Pumpkin lets out a lot of water when it cooks, so dab it dry before freezing to prevent freezer burn. If you’re storing it in pieces, I recommend spreading them out on a sheet pan (try to keep them from touching too much, if you can) and freezing them for 4-6 hours or until they are completely frozen before transferring to another container. This way, you don’t have to do battle with a solid chunk of pumpkin pieces that you have to use a hammer to break apart.
- Purée: If you would like to freeze purée, I recommend using a freezer bag or a container that you can fill pretty much to the brim. (Don’t forget to leave enough space for expansion, but remove all the excess air to prevent freezer burn!) The great thing about freezer bags is that you can flatten your purée out in the bag. This makes it easy to stack multiple bags and takes up a minimal amount of precious freezer space.
Practice Makes Perfect with these Pumpkin Recipes
Now that you’ve mastered buying & storing, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. To keep reading more about utilizing your pumpkin, check out these articles on Four Ways To Cook A Pumpkin as well as All About Pumpkin Seeds (+ 5 seasoning recipes).
- Brown Butter and Pumpkin Seed Scones with Brown Butter Glaze
- Pumpkin Apple Pizza
- Pumpkin Egg Casserole
- Deep Dish Pumpkin Cobbler with Parmesan Chive Biscuits
- Pumpkin Pierogi (coming soon!)
- Pumpkin Tacos
Thanks so much for stopping by! If you used today’s post to help you buy and store pumpkins for cooking, or to make delicious pumpkin recipes, leave me a comment below or send me a picture through social media (@foodabovegold). Tag it with #CallMeMichelin and #foodabovegold for everyone to see!
Happy Cooking! 🙂
Pictures used with permission by Cala1