That pumpkin you buy for a jack-o-lantern is not just a decoration, regardless of the sticker that may appear on it.
It’s a fruit, like any other squash, with nutritious seeds at the center and firm flesh that you can eat as a side dish or in a pie.
But getting it ready to eat takes a little effort on your part.
The first step is to select a pumpkin. The more colorful heirloom pumpkins, such as those blue-gray or green, are actually better for eating, though some are marked for decoration. The worst for eating is said to the standard carving pumpkin, but those cook up as well as any other, even if they are slightly stringier. (Just run it through the food processor a little while longer and you won’t know the difference.)
Look for a pumpkin without any bruises on the outside; or if there are bruises, cut around them.
Cutting into the pumpkin can take some effort. I’ve seen people use a hammer to drive a knife into the skin. That requires some skill and careful attention. I haven’t tried it. I’m the type who would drive the knife into my hand first. So, I use a bread knife with a serrated blade and a strong handle.
Cut the pumpkin roughly in half first. That way, you can scoop out as much of the seeds and string as possible. I use my hands for that, though a spoon works almost as well. (Don’t throw the seeds, or pepitas, away. Click here for directions on toasting them.)
Then I cut the pumpkin into pieces and place them on a half sheet pan (18 inches by 13 inches) with the skin side up. It doesn’t matter the size of the pieces as long as they lie relatively flat on the pan. Don’t bother trying to peel the pumpkin before cooking, it takes too much time and effort.
About halfway through the carving, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Once the pan is full or the pumpkin is cut up, then pour a little water until the pan, so it is about 1/4 inch deep. Tent the top of the tray with aluminum foil and place in the oven.
Cook for about 25 minutes.
Shortly before the first phase of cooking is up, melt a stick of butter in a small saucepan.
Remove the tray from the oven and uncover the pumpkin. Turn the pumpkin over and brush the slices with melted butter. Return to the oven uncovered and cook for another 20-25 minutes or until the flesh is soft when poked with a fork.
Remove from the oven and drain the water. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, peel it.
If you are serving the pumpkin as a side dish, season it with more butter, salt or brown sugar to taste.
If you are processing the pumpkin for soup or pie, cut the pieces into 1-inch squares. Process in a food processor or blender, a little at a time until smooth.
I measure out leftover pumpkin into 2-cup freezer bags. The pumpkin will keep for up to 1 year in the freezer.
Why do all this work? Because fresh pumpkin is vastly superior to the canned variety. To find out, decorate your pumpkin on the outside, then cut it up, cook it and discover for yourself just how delicious it is.