Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Roasting Pumpkins (While Drinking Wine)

Don’t you just love autumn?

We are nearing the end of the harvest season. The leaves are brightly colored and drifting to the ground, one by one, like the coming snows. The sky is an incredible blue. The geese flocks that live along the river behind us are taking to wing.
Doukenie Winery is a favorite of ours.

Your favorite uncle and I took a recent Saturday to head towards northern Virginia for wine and winter squash to put up for the winter. Our favorite wines are grown and pressed in Loudon County. We belong to a couple wine case clubs with the wineries we visit twice a year. We combined the journey with our search for pumpkins, butternut squash and colorful winter squashes that will go in our baked goods, soups and as side dishes for the colder months.

The past several years, we’ve gone to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for our winter squash. The farms there product an abundance of lovely produce – bright orange and red squashes, striped turban squash, tan and sweet butternut squash, deeply green with red streaks acorn squash, sweet yellow corn, crisp green onions and tart and sweet red onions. We come home with our car filled with boxes of pumpkins and squash and veggies ready to be packed and frozen for later.

But with the case clubs waiting – and who am I to keep a bottle of wine waiting? – we headed West this time.

Since the end of the 1970s, vineyards and wineries have been a growing endeavor in Virginia. The past 15 years, though, have seen one of the few positive effects of climate change – northern Virginia now has areas that are comparable to California’s Napa Valley for growing wine grapes. (The downside – prediction models are showing that by 2050 those same wine regions might no longer be suitable for wine grapes. Something to drink about.) Thanks to the ancient glaciers and the run off from the melting ice, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are fortunate to have the sandy and loamy soil grapes like. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains offer gentle slopes for the vineyards to wind around.

So off we went.

Drinking local wine is a new experience for many people. The localvore movement has helped to introduce many people to wines from their own regions, rather than ones grown in France or New Zealand. Delightful wines now come from the Finger Lakes of Central New York and the hills of Northern Virginia that have bright flavors and fun names.

Pairing those wines with locally grown fruits and vegetables is a natural step – and one several chefs have taken when opening farm-to-table restaurants. For us, the rich flavor and color offered by winter squash is a natural pairing. One of our favorites is a smoky pumpkin soup. And there is always the traditional savory pumpkin pie.

 Next to our case of wine is a box of pumpkins and squash. I’ll roast and drain these squashes, freezing the puree for this winter’s baking and dinner. Having the prepped squash makes baking and cooking so much easier. I know what I have, no mystery squash in a can from the grocery store. The acorn and butternut is already prepared with a touch of maple syrup and spice, just waiting to be heated in the toaster oven for a weeknight dinner.

I prefer to make and freeze pumpkin and squash purees. For me, it’s the ultimate in convenience. Thaw a freezer jar and I’m good to go. However, if you are interested in canning your pumpkin and squash, you will need a pressure canner and canning jars. To can your pumpkin, you will need to cut the flesh into cubes and can in a liquid. I suggest you follow directions on Home Preserving Pumpkins  from the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning.

Keep in mind, an average sized pumpkin will often give you up to 6 cups of pumpkin puree. That's enough to make 3 pumpkin pies or 6 savory or sweet dishes. A smaller pie pumpkin will yield enough puree for two pumpkin pies – a really small pie pumpkin will make one pie.

Freezing Pumpkin and Butternut Puree


  • 1-2 good-size pumpkins or butternut squashes (a pumpkin circumference of 20-23 inches and a butternut length of 10-12 inches) You can roast smaller squashes but will need to adjust your time.


  • Pans for roasting (baking bans or dishes work just fine here)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cutting board
  • Pumpkin carving knife – the kind sold as safety “knives” for jack-o’-lanterns
  • Spoon for scraping out the strings and seeds
  • Colander 
  • Basket-style coffee filters
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Sandwich plate
  • Weight (I use a bag of popcorn kernels)
  • Immersion blender

For Freezing:

  • Plastic freezer jars or straight sided, wide-mouth canning jars with plastic lids
  • Plastic wrap (if needed)


The Roasting:
Turn your oven on to 400 degrees to preheat.

Wash your pumpkin or squash with a vegetable wash and place on your cutting board. Make sure all the dirt is gone from the skin. There are two reasons for this. The first is you don’t want to transfer any possibly nasty germs or bacteria from the skin of the pumpkins or squash to the flesh. The second reason is you will be saving the juice and water that cooks out of the pumpkins and squash and you don’t want dirt in that liquid when you’re done.

Slice the pumpkin or squash in half. The best method I have found is to use a pumpkin carving knife. Many jack-o'-lantern carving kits come with a dull serrated knife for carving the face of your jack-o-lantern.  The blade won't cut you but when applied to the flesh of a pumpkin or winter squash easily slices through the hardest of skins. I keep my pumpkin knife with my other cooking utensils all year.

Once slide in half, scoop out the seeds and strings. If you want to save the seeds, you can roast the seeds for a snack or dry them to plant in the spring.

Place your pumpkin or squash in the roasting pan with the cut side up. Pour a quarter of a cup of water into the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. You want the pumpkin or squash to steam while roasting.

Pop your roasting pan into the oven and set the timer. For a large pumpkin or squash, roast for one hour. A smaller one, pie pumpkin size, roasts for 45 minutes.

The Scooping:
When the timer dings, pull out the roasting pans and allow to cool while still covered. Depending on how warm your kitchen is, that may be for an hour or two. While you’re waiting, line your colander with three overlapping coffee filters, so that the holes are covered. Set into a large mixing bowl and set aside until later.

Once cool, open up the foil and take out one of the halves. It should be cool enough to handle without
Clockwise, freshly roasted pumpkin; scooped pumpkin about
to be pureed; and the finished but undrained puree. You are
working for a thick but smooth texture.
burning yourself. With your serving spoon, scoop the tender pumpkin or squash flesh from the skin and into a large mixing bowl. Discard the skin. Repeat with the other half.

Using your immerse blender, puree the pumpkin or squash until smooth. Once you have a contestant texture – it should be a puree similar to whipped potatoes – spoon the pumpkin or squash into the waiting colander. Once you have transferred all of the puree, place a sandwich plate on top and then your weight on the plate. Put the bowel with the colander into the refrigerator.

You want the puree to drain for at least overnight and up to 24 hours. During this time, the squash water or pumpkin juice will drain out of the puree. This step is important! Undrained pumpkin and squash is too watery for most recipes – I made a mess of a pumpkin pie by skipping this step.

The Packing:
The next day, scoop the puree into your freezer jars. I use one and two cup jars for freezing. A one cup freezer jar is the right size for most baked goods and my favorite soup recipe. A two cup freezer jar is perfect for pumpkin and butternut pies.

Once you’ve scooped out the puree, gently pour that beautiful squash water or pumpkin juice into another freezer jar. It’s good to use soups in place of vegetable broth, in pumpkin soup especially, and can be used in smoothies or homemade pumpkin beer. (Oh, yes. Auntie makes pumpkin beer. We’ll get to that this Christmas.)

Freeze your puree and your squash water or pumpkin juice. To use, leave in the refrigerator overnight or put the jar in water to defrost on the counter if you’re using it immediately. It’s ready to use out of the jar, just like commercial canned pumpkin – but so much better!