How to Turn Free Pumpkins into Pumpkin Puree

A pile of pumpkins

Have you noticed that pumpkins are expensive during October and suddenly worthless on November first?

I won't pay those ridiculous prices in October, but as soon as the calendar changes to November I can pick them up very cheaply and sometimes even for free. 

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I don't turn them into Jack-O-Lanterns; I turn them into pumpkin puree and chicken feed.

The big box store in town always discounts their pumpkins in November and I try to pick up a couple of those at half price or less. One year they were on sale for fifty cents each near the middle of the month, so I bought a couple more. 

I heard that eventually they gave the remaining pumpkins away for free, but I wasn't in town that day.

Two huge boxes of pumpkins for sale. A sign reads "Clearance: $1"

I've even scored a few free pumpkins for the asking at businesses that decorate with straw bales and pumpkins. It never hurts to ask.

If you live in a colder climate than I do, this might not work for you. Once they've frozen, they're only good for chicken feed. But check them out anyway - if the pumpkin display was in a sheltered spot, they might have survived the cold temperatures, and if you have chickens, they'll love this free food.

A fall display in a parking lot including pumpkins, hay bales and fall flowers.

Most of the pumpkins are usually still in very good shape and I turn them into pumpkin puree that goes in the freezer and eventually becomes pumpkin pie and other goodies.

The ones that are past the point of human consumption go to the chickens. My hens enjoy pecking at the flesh until all that's left is the hard, thin shell.

To process a pumpkin, start by cutting off the top and removing the seeds as though you're carving a jack-o-lantern. The innards - the "top hat" of the pumpkin, the seeds and as many of the strings as you can scrape off the inside flesh of the pumpkin (I use a serrated grapefruit spoon) - make great chicken feed.

Sprouted pumpkin seeds inside a pumpkin.

Sometimes I'll cut into a pumpkin and find that the seeds have already sprouted inside. This is a normal process, and is how a pumpkin reproduces by seed. Sometimes the seeds just jump the gun a bit. It's called "vivipary."

My chickens loved the sprouted seeds, and I realized that pumpkin seeds could be sprouted (you know, on purpose!) and fed to the chickens as "green feed." Lightbulb moment!

Cut the rest of the pumpkin into large pieces and arrange in a roasting pan with a little water. Roast it in a 325°F oven until the pumpkin meat is really soft when you poke it with a fork.

Remove from the oven and set the pan aside until the pumpkin is cool, then just peel the rind off. It's so easy.

You'll either need a couple of roasting pans, or to do this in several shifts. There's a lot of pumpkin meat to be roasted, depending on the size of your pumpkin.

A roasting pan full of pumpkin pieces.

Then I mash the soft pumpkin meat with a fork, measure it into 2-cup quantities and freeze it in zip-top bags. 

Or you can cut the flesh into cubes and puree in the food processor. 

Since these aren't pie pumpkins, they usually have more water than commercially-canned pumpkin puree. If it's a really watery pumpkin I hang it in muslin for awhile to let some of the moisture drain out.

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Pumpkin puree is too dense to can safely at home, even in a pressure cooker. However, it can be canned in chunks if you prefer. You can find directions to pressure-can pumpkin chunks here.

A zip-top freezer bag of pumpkin puree.

How to freeze pumpkin puree

Check your favorite recipes to see the amounts you use the most, and package accordingly. 

I package mine in several sizes according to use: 3 3/4 cups equals a large can of pumpkin puree for pie-making. My mother's pumpkin bread recipe uses two cups. 

I package several one-cup portions too for other uses, including my Holiday Spice soap.

Label the bags and store in the freezer. While pumpkin puree lasts pretty much indefinitely in the freezer, the quality is best if used within 3 months. [Source]

A pumpkin pie on a black granite kitchen counter with a black and white kitchen towel.

For my favorite pumpkin pie recipe - and tips on how you can make pumpkin pie without evaporated milk - check out this post: How to Make Pumpkin Pie without Evaporated Milk.

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Related Posts:
My Mother's Famous Pumpkin Bread Recipe
Making Pumpkin Pie Without Evaporated Milk
Easy, No-Knead Cottage Cheese Bread

A pile of pumpkins. Text: "how to turn cheap or free pumpkins into pumpkin puree."


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