Pumpkin: Fresh vs. Canned

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This time of year, pumpkins are aplenty. In lattes, breads, bagels, and even cream cheese, that globular orange squash makes an appearance. As soon as the first cool wind blows away the memories of summer, people race to the supermarkets for cans of pumpkin purée and hit the pumpkin patch for the real deal. In many homes, the fresh pumpkins are relegated to decoration, but not in mine.

Despite the extra work, I usually prefer the taste of fresh over canned pumpkin. Each fall, I buy a few sugar pumpkins and roast, purée and cook down the flesh to use throughout the winter. (Note: With squash--and that goes for pumpkins, zucchini, and others--bigger doesn't mean better. The larger most squash get, the less flavor and more stringy fiber they have. Large pumpkins are great for winning state fair ribbons and decorating your front porch; small sugar or pie variety pumpkins are the ones you want to eat.)

Sometimes I do reach for canned, but that's not always possible, as pumpkin lovers learned last year during a nationwide shortage.

To save yourself time and energy, reach for canned, but if you're interested in learning how to process fresh pumpkin--and where it really makes a difference, read on.

When should you choose canned pumpkin?

In any recipe that…

  • requires a strong pumpkin flavor.

  • doesn't need any extra moisture.

  • isn't cooked.

Chef Meg recommends canned pumpkin for most baked goods, as that's what have been used when the recipes were tested. She experimented with fresh vs. canned recently, and she said that a 2 pound pumpkin yielded about a cup of usable pumpkin purée, but it was a bit watery.

Canned pumpkin is great in baked goods. It contains less water, has a deep, almost roasted taste, and contains no added sugar or salt (be sure to look for 100% pure pumpkin on the label).

A blogger friend of mine thinks the combination of pumpkin and yogurt is the bee's knees, and I would agree that, for yogurt, canned pumpkin is better than fresh.

If you're a fan of the pumpkin syrup found at most coffeehouses, you can make your own using canned pumpkin. (Find great recipes here and here.)

And when it comes to smoothies, canned pumpkin is best. (Try freezing it in ice cube trays before popping it into your blender.)

So what about fresh?

Fresh pumpkin is great:

  • in savory recipes.

  • in recipes that can benefit from the added water.

  • if you prefer a milder pumpkin taste.

  • if you want more texture.

So how do you roast a pumpkin?

3 Ways: Oven, Microwave, Steamer

I'm only going to share directions for the first two because most recipes don't need any extra water.

Roasting a Pumpkin:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use a sharp knife to cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the stem and scoop out the seeds (see below for details on processing the seeds).

Place both halves face down in a baking dish and cover with foil.

Bake until tender, about 75-90 minutes.

I prefer to cool the pumpkins cut side down on a rack so the excess water can drain off.

Note: If I am going to use cubed rather than puréed pumpkin in a recipe (such as risotto or a curry), I slice the pumpkin along each rib, then roast the ribs. Once cooked and cooled, I trim away the skin, then cube the pumpkin flesh.

Microwaving a Pumpkin:

Prepare the pumpkin as you would to bake it, but pierce the skin with a fork.

Place the pumpkin halves in a microwave-safe dish.

Microwave on high until the flesh is tender (about 6 minutes per pound), and turn the pumpkin every few minutes.

Cool as directed above.

To create pumpkin purée:

Use a spoon to remove the cooked pumpkin from the skin. Discard the skin, and place the pumpkin flesh in a strainer lined with paper towels or lint-free towels. Weight it down to allow the excess water to drain off. Allow to sit for a few hours or overnight (refrigerate if you're going to drain it more than an hour), then purée.

Place the pumpkin in a food processor and purée until smooth, or transfer in small batches to a blender.

Store in the refrigerator for up to five days, or freeze for up to a year. I like to freeze in ice cube trays, then pop the frozen cubes into a bag.

Note: For that rich, canned pumpkin taste, you can cook down the pumpkin purée over medium-low heat until it has thickened and turned darker in color.

How to Turn Pumpkin "Guts" into a Tasty Treat
Place the guts in a large bowl in the sink. Fill the bowl with water, and start to separate the seeds from the guts. I like to massage them between my fingers, which seems to work well to loosen the seeds. Skim off the guts as you go along, but DO NOT put them down your garbage disposal. (They'll clog it! I learned this the hard way.)

Once the guts are gone, give the seeds a rinse, and toss them with your favorite spices. I like smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring the seeds halfway through.

What is your favorite way to use pumpkin? Do you prefer it in sweet or savory dishes?

Need a new pumpkin recipe? Try one of these!
I love to make pumpkin gnocchi, but I'm still perfecting my recipe. I'll share it soon! (By the way, I'm still on a campaign to save the pumpkins!)

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the one link for pumpkin syrups gives a 404 not found result. I have never tried pumpkin syrup and thought it sounded interesting. I make pumpkin pie, but I do not put it into a crust. Instead I put it into smaller ramekins, bake it and enjoy it that way instead.
I usually process pumpkin from my garden and freeze it, just because it is there. Often my pumpkin pies are actually made from buttercup squash, the taste of pumpkin pie is all in the spices not the ingredient. I like to use the pumpkin purée in breads, oatmeal, and pumpkin cheesecake is divine, but I haven't made that for years! Report
I have converted to using fresh pumpkin over canned; it just looks better and has a fresher taste. I'm also using fairytale or pink pumpkins instead of the traditional jack-o-lanterns, there's so much more meat. I puree in a blender, using just a touch of water to help process. Whatever I don't use in pies, I make into soups, pumpkin bread, and my boyfriend has made a wonderful pumpkin cheesecake with it. Will have to talk him into making another one soon, I've got LOTS of puree! Report
Wow!! What you can learn from you guys never ceases to amaze me!!! Thank you so much!
ginny Report
I use pumpkin in a lot of things - gives good colour and texture to pureed soups, added to casseroles, mashed and added to scones or pumpkin cake, baked, steamed, mashed with Swede - you name the method and I will eat it. I don't bake my pumpkin like described - I just cut off a serving size, par-steam it then spray with Rice Bran Oil and bake. I always eat the skin on pumpkin when baked, EXCEPT the orange Butternut Squash. I prefer pumpkin to carrots for the 'orange' vege - a lot lower in calories which means I can eat more to fill me. We don't get canned pumpkin in NZ so it is always done from fresh pumpkin. When it is plentiful I get a fair few, and usually cut them into portions and then freeze for cooking later. sometimes I cook them then freeze in serving size portions. Report
I love pumpkin everything/anything! But I am more the person to use canned than to do all the extra work in using a real pumpkin. Report
Never used fresh pumpkins, but it sounds like a good idea. Report
I have never liked working up an unwieldy pumpkin. I replace pumpkin with butternut squash. I grow them in the garden and find them easier to manage when processing. If I have enough, I do a bunch of them at one time and freeze or can them myself. People don't know the difference. I've done it for years. If I don't have the butternut squash on hand, I use store bought canned pumpkin. Report
We drain the cooked pureed pumpkin in a cheese cloth bag hanging from a cupboard knob over a bowl to drain. Then it works great for baking, like canned. Report
Pumpkin is pretty much my favorite thing ever right now. :) LOVE it in just about everything.
Try adding a fourth a cup to your banana 'ice cream' for healthy pumpkin ice cream! OMG. Also good as a smoothie with ice, almond milk, stevia and tons of spices. Yummmmoo. Pumpkin oatmeal? Yes please! Report
Pumpkin Pie - instead of using Pumkin, substitute Butternut Squash. It makes a better pie. You may have to cook it a bit longer for it to set in the middle, but the outcome is worth it. All of the ingredients are the same as a scratch pumpkin pie, but the only change is Butternut Squash.

Try it, you'll like it! Report
I am an older cook and as far as I am concerned, the only good pumpkins to cook for eating are the smaller ones called "pie pumpkins". The flavor and texture are superior and not watery.
I like to cook and bake with butternut squash and sweet poitatoes, too. Report
I've never considered cooking & eating fresh pumpkin before reading this blog. Don't know if I will go to the trouble, cooking anything for an hour plus doesn't sound like an efficient use of time!

But I am curious as to the taste of fresh cooked pumpkin, so I just might give it a go! Report
Only fresh for me, canned pumpkin still makes me gag. I used to gag when I was young at the smell of fresh pumpkin too. I tried for the longest time to like pumpkin pie but the taste was repulsive, I even baked a pie one year hoping that I would be able to eat it, but to no avail. Then 13 years ago we had an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at my parents house and had no canned pumpkin, so my dad told his wife to cook up a pumpkin and puree it and use that for pies. She did and I didn't mind the smell of the pie cooking so I had a sliver, then ate 2 pieces. When my sister came by my step-mother told her to try the pie and that "Miss I HATE pumpkin pie" just had 2 pieces. So since that time my whole family has been making pies with fresh pumpkin. I just cooked up 5-6 pumpkins from my garden last weekend. I got 15 1/2 cups puree. I use any size pumpkin I can get my hands on. Report
I'm not lucky enough to live in New Zealand or other countries where pumpkin is grown year round, If I did my skin might turn orange.

We make home made Pumpkin ice cream with Splenda and it is awesome. Low calorie - and a person could make a point that it is a healthy alternative to regular ice cream, cakes and pies. Of course, that doesn't count for anything made with pumpkin.

My DW makes a delicious pumpkin cake that is like carrot cake - but it's pumpkin! Report
I use any ole pumpkin for say muffins and the like. Put thru a food processor after baking there's never any strings. Also for the seeds try boiling them in heavily salted water before baking. YUM Report
I just think of pumpkin as a squash and bake it like you would any winter squash. I have tried getting the puree but it is so much hassle! The seeds are worth the mess, but why bother -- it leaves guts everywhere! So I eat plenty of pumpkin the easy way: baked with a tiny bit of brown sugar on it. Report
Blah! I'm not a pumpkin eater and never will be. It just doesn't taste good to me. But, I am a great carver of pumpkins from way back :) Report
I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin, but I LOVE yogurt and would like to try the pumpkin yogurt mix! Report
reading this made me hungry..hahah i love pumpkin in anything..will have to try the reciepies o ut Report
My grandparents had a pumpkin farm. So, I have never bought canned pumpkin. I so prefer the taste of fresh pumpkin. I can immediately tell if something was made with canned pumpkin. I grow my own pumpkins now, that my grandparents are gone. Report
I can't see why you would use canned anything when you use fresh. In any case I have never seen canned pumpkin (in this country). Report
I LOVE pumpkin in any form and live for fall every year! I prefer to roast and puree my pumpkins - canned has a metallic undertone I dislike. I like the tip of draining before pureeing - will have to try that. Report
Love pumkin, fresh and canned, I grow my own little pie pumkins. I love the fresh ones just roasted with a little butter and sweetner, I also add a little SF maple syrup. Very much like sweet potatoes but less calories. Report
My best friend makes an awesome curry and pumpkin soup that's to die for. I'll have to foward her this link. :) Report
Thank you very much for this post. I usually go the easy route with canned, but this year I have a small pumpkin that we never decorated or carved and I'd hate to waste it. I've been meaning to search for an easy recipe using fresh pumpkin. Report
I almost never buy canned pumpkin - preferring to use fresh as I am usually baking something with it. I use the over method but rather than covering it with foil, I put about 1" of water in the bottom of the baking pan and cook for about an hour. It seems to steam and cook quicker. Cool and remove from skin - ready to use. To store it, I freeze it in about 16 oz containers and it is available when I need it. Makes great pies! Butternut squash can also be prepared and used in the same manner.
Great post! I've never tried to cook with fresh pumpkin. I'm a canned girl all the way. LOL But it's nice to see the options and ideas. Thanks. Report
I love using fresh pumpkin in everything from pie to soup. While it does save time to use canned in a pie, nothing can beat the flavor of fresh and it doesn't matter if it is a big pumpkin or a small one. The trick is to "cook it down" which is an old fashioned way of saying to cook off the excess water. I do it in a non-stick skillet to keep it from burning. Report
Thanks for the roasting tips. We've got a really nice pie pumpkin hanging out in our kitchen, and I never really knew what to do with it. I mean, I knew I would roast it, but I didn't realize it would need draining. I'm glad I read this before trying to eat a watery pumpkin mash!

I love the idea of pumpkin gnocchi. I think I'll give that a try this weekend! Report
Sending this to my pumpkin loving friend - who for her August birthday gets 2 pies - one for her and one for everyone else at her birthday dinner! Thanks Stef! Report
I've made pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread but that is all. Report
Good heavens - I would NEVER use canned pumpkin - the idea is repulsive to me - but then I can get fresh pumpkin all year round!!
If we need to use a mashed cooked pumpkin - we do it early then cook before use!!
It is a great addition to cakes and scones (biscuits) as cooked, mashed, cooled pumpkin.
Having NEVER even seen canned pumpkin in the shops - but then I doubt anyone would buy it anyway!! - we are used to preparing it - and use it as an almost staple vegetable - its cheap and easy to prepare and the different varieties have different flavours!! Report
I use pumpkin all year round. I LOVE it roasted (usually with the skin on) with others veges (it gets a beautiful caramalised outer where it touches the roasting pan) - I love it steamed on it's own or steamed and mashed in with swede. I love it as Pumpkin Soup, or some just to give a beautiful colour to other soups! I love it mashed and put into scones or Muffins! I guesd what I am saying is; I love, LOVE. L O V E it:-) (very low calories, too:-) Report
Pumpkins! Gotta love 'em! Great blog, lost of VERY useful information :) Report
I liked this article. Homemade pumpkin pie is delicious and unique in flavour and texture. I like the crustless pumpkin pie and will try cooking the pumpkin in the microwave. Report
I love pumpkin anything!!! Report
We raised pie pumpkins this year with great success. I cooked them in the microwave, scooped out the pumpkin, pureed in a blender, then froze the puree for use in pies. It works great. Report
When I taught school, I always carved a pumpkin with my class. Many students were amazed when I had them wash and save the seeds to dry overnight. Then we lightly coated the classroom electric skillet with oil, toasted the seeds until brown, and passed them around for morning snack. I created a lot of pumpkin seed "addicts" over the years, not to mention how much less candy they ate at school! Report
I roasted pumpkin seeds for the first time this year. I did cinnamon and low sodium salt ones. My boys love the cinnamon ones! Report
"globular orange squash" just sounds totally unappetizing. i love pumpkin, but that is just gross. Report
I have cooked pumpkin in my crock pot - clean out the innards first and cut into chunks. Put a cup or so of water in the pot and cook on low overnight. Report
My wife makes a great soup with squash its tasty. Report
The only way to eat pumpkin pie is with fresh pumpkin. YUMMM!!!!! Report
Fresh pumpkin is amazing. If you puree the pumpkin in a blender/processor and refrigerate, the excess water will eventually seep to the top (which you can then pour off). Cheesecloth also works very well. Nom nom.

Forget the canned stuff... Report
I love savory roasted squash be it pumpkin, delicata, butternut or kabocha. Sweet potatoes are delicious to roast too. Its like candy for me! Report
I made a fabulous rice pilaf in a pumpkin one time - clean out the pumpkin; mix rice, raisins, almonds together and put it the pumpkin; add red wine and water (equal parts) in an amount double to the rice measurement (i.e. 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice). Oil the skin of the pumpkin, put the top back on the pumpkin, place on baking sheet, bake in the oven about 1 hour (at 350 F). To serve, take the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the rice and the pumpkin flesh at the same time. Really tasty, and gorgeous at a fall potluck! (Makes a LOT!) Report
I don't carve pumpkins either. I grow/buy 8-10 pumpkins a year and slowly work them up. Using a coal kitchen cook stove, I just cut 'em in half, use an ice-cream scoop to clean out the innerds. Throw 'em in the oven until the skin is slightly shriveled. Cool. The peelings come off with a flick of a paring knife. I then puree the whole big 'ol bowl with a hand blender. That might take 45-60 seconds!! Scoop the glop into ziploc bags and lay flat to freeze. Right now I'm on pumpkin number 5 I think. I only do 1 or 2 a week, just cause I'm busy. Depending on the pumpkin, 1 veggie makes 1-3 pumpkin pies. Report
Apparently most canned pumpkin is actually squash. Report
I was in a pumpkin carving contest and got to keep my pumpkin and others let me keep theirs too. I promised them a pie and pudding for letting me keep it. Pudding is made just like the pie filling only you eat it cold or hot with no crust and just like a pudding. Report