Harvesting Pumpkins, Storing and Making Pie
by Dawn Lesley Stewart
Every year I plant sugar pumpkins in my organic garden. I start the seed early indoors, and transplant the pumpkins outside once the soil is warm enough and all danger of frost has passed. My pumpkin plants love growing near the base of my compost bin. The soil there is enriched from all those nutrients. I plant between eight to ten plants and let them vine throughout that dedicated area during the summer. The yellow squash flowers are huge, attracting a variety of buzzing insects, which are beneficial to the garden.
Come late summer or early autumn, the pumpkins begin to turn orange. I keep watch on the pumpkins once they begin to near a solid orange. One year just as the pumpkins were ready to pick, the beautiful pumpkins imploded. All but one of them literally caved inward. I had never seen anything like it. So now when the pumpkins turn orange, I keep watch over them. If the vine looks as though it is dying, I will cut the ripe (or ripening) pumpkins free from that vine. If the pumpkins are a solid orange, I harvest them, even if it is early. This year I harvested my first pumpkin at the end of August! I also had to harvest one that was still a bit green, and it ripened fine, turning completely orange. When cutting the pumpkins free from the vine, make sure to use a pair of shears or pruners. Cut at least 3-inches of stem. (Pumpkins without a stem won’t last as long as pumpkins with a stem.)
Storing pumpkins is easy, too. Place them in a dry location. They store well in temperatures between 50- to 55-degrees. I harvest my pumpkins and decorate with them for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Then the sugar pumpkins are made into fresh pumpkin pie. I only keep my pumpkins a few months before using them.
Here is how I use fresh sugar pumpkins to make pumpkin pie:
1. Rinse the pumpkins and dry them. Remove the stem. Cut the pumpkins in half. Remove all the seeds and pulp (it doesn't take long). I use a large metal spoon and scoop the seeds and pulp into a bowl as I work. (If you have a compost bin, you can discard the seeds and pulp into it.)
2. I use a microwave-safe 13"x9" glass dish. Place the pumpkins face down in the pan. (Flat side of pumpkin is against the pan bottom. The round side is in the air.) After adding the pumpkins, cover the bottom of the pan with one-cup of water.
3. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. If the pumpkins need cooking longer, microwave the pumpkin pieces in 5-minute increments until the outer skin is soft to the touch. Sometimes you can see the skin beginning to sag downward, which is fine. (The object is to loosen the inside pumpkin flesh from the skin.) When done cooking, remove the pumpkin pieces to a wire cooking rack to cool a bit before handling. (I use a large metal spatula designed for cooking on the grill. It is sturdy and fits great under the pumpkin halves.)
4. As soon as the cooked pumpkins are cool enough to comfortably handle, scoop the pumpkin flesh into a colander. If the pumpkin flesh is chunky, mash it. I set the colander inside a bowl so that the bottom of the colander is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Let the pumpkin drain for at least a full two hours.
5. Next, scoop the pumpkin flesh into a measuring cup. Each pie uses two cups of fresh pumpkin. If desired, you can freeze the pumpkin for up to three months. (Make sure to freeze it in the quantity the recipe calls for.)
TIME TO BAKE!
Dawn's Deep-Dish Fresh and Delicious Pumpkin Pie
2 cups -- mashed pumpkin (as prepared above)
1 cup -- sugar
1 tablespoon -- cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon -- salt
1/2 teaspoon -- ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon -- ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon -- ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
1/8 cup -- molasses
1 1/2 cups -- whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon -- butter, melted (I zap it in the microwave)
Preheat the oven to 450-degrees F.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the pumpkin and mix. Add the beaten eggs, molasses, milk and melted butter. Stir together until well blended. I use a 9" Deep Dish pie shell (frozen from the supermarket ... tastes great and so much easier than making the crust from scratch!). Pour the blended ingredients into the pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Then carefully cover the edges of the pie crust with foil to keep them from overcooking. Reduce the oven temperature to 350-degrees F. and bake for another 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool it on a wire rack.
Happy Gardening !
Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.
Copyright 2010 Dawn Lesley Stewart