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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Skin-On Pumpkin Cooking Technique to Minimize Waste and Maximize Value

I wanted to show you how I cook Jack o' lantern type pumpkins. These are the large carving pumpkins that are usually the least expensive per pound. Jack o' lantern pumpkins have a high water content and are lower in natural sugars than sugar pie pumpkins. They can also be more stringy than pie pumpkins. But they do have food value, and if you process them right, the water content can be reduced and stringiness eliminated. And if you get a great price on these pumpkins, they can be an affordable yellow vegetable. Also, many folks buy pumpkins for carving Jack o' lanterns. This is a great way to get full use of those Halloween decorations. 

I use these carving pumpkins for making puree for breads, muffins, pies, and soups. And now I have an even simpler and less wasteful technique for cooking them. I leave the skin on and puree them flesh and skin together. I've long thought commercial canned pumpkin must be made with the skin on. It seems to me that would be not only be possible with commercial equipment, but would also ensure the greatest profit to use more of the pumpkin than our grandmothers could in their home kitchens. Today, we have food processors and immersion blenders to help us get a super smooth end product in our own kitchens.

My skin-on technique works with smooth skinned pumpkins, like below.

This is Happy Jack. We carved him from a 13-14 pound pumpkin the afternoon of Halloween. We used battery-operated candles inside for the evening. At the end of the night, I took out the candles and popped all of Jack into the fridge. When we carved him, I saved the seeds, the carved out pieces, and all of the inside stringy stuff in the fridge. A couple of days later, I washed and froze the seeds for future roasting. And the stringy stuff to be added to the first batch of cooked pumpkin for puree.

The next morning, I gave Jack a bath, then I began chopping up the little feller. With the skin still on, I chopped the pumpkin into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes. 

The only part of the pumpkin that I did not use was the stem (but I used the orange flesh under the stem), the blossom spot (but used the flesh under the blossom spot) and scarring on the skin (I gently trimmed away scars, preserving as much flesh as I could).

I began cooking the pumpkin in batches.

I put the cubes of raw pumpkin into a saucepan and added about 1/2 to 1-inch of water to the pan. I brought to a boil, covered, reduced to Low, then simmered for about 30-40 minutes, stirring twice part way through cooking to prevent scorching. When I could cut the skin on the pieces easily with the edge of a spoon, I knew they were done.

I scooped the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and pureed. Large pieces of skin would collect on the side of the processor bowl, so I stirred them back into the puree with a table knife.

After pureeing a bit more, the skin pieces were considerably smaller. Oddly, they mostly collected on the side of the bowl and seemed to almost vanish when I dumped the puree into the sieve.

I scooped the pureed pumpkin into a mesh sieve set over a large bowl and allowed it to drain and thicken for about an hour while I did other things in the kitchen. The mesh sieve held about 1 saucepan of cooked pumpkin puree. While the next batch cooked/cooled, the puree of the first batch drained.

You can see the difference in thickness at this point. It had reduced in volume by about 20%. I packaged the thickened puree into pint containers for the freezer.

This is the strained-off liquid from the pumpkin puree. I ended up with about 2 quarts of this liquid. I've used some already this week in soup. It has a mild flavor and can be used in soups as stock and in gravy. As it has both flavor and nutrients, I consider this remaining liquid to be of culinary value and not waste.

My original pumpkin weighed about 13 to 14 pounds. I paid between $3.64 and $3.92 for the whole pumpkin. In addition to the 2 quarts of pumpkin liquid, I also ended up with 6 & 1/2 pints of thickened pumpkin puree and about 1 1/2 cups of seeds for roasting. If I calculate the value based on just the puree, each pint costs between 56 and 60 cents, plus the cost of using the stove (a couple cents per pint). In this scenario, the pumpkin liquid and seeds are a bonus freebie. Store-brand canned pumpkin is currently selling for between $1.47 and $1.59 per pint at my nearby stores. I saved about 90 cents per can of pumpkin puree.

I had wondered for several years if I could just cook and puree the pumpkin skin with the flesh. I read in a couple of places that this could be done. So I gave it a try myself. We're very pleased with the results. My husband was skeptical when I told him I would be doing the pumpkin this way. He was sure the skin would ruin the texture and was completely surprised that the skin bits could not be detected in either the pumpkin soup or the pumpkin soufflé made this week.


  1. All I can say is "well done!" I haven't purchased a pumpkin in many, many years. We did when the children were little but carving pumpkins just wasn't their thing. Probably the texture and yuck. I much more love butternut squash for baking then scraping the flesh out for freezing. I have a freezer with many containers of pureed squash and I use it in red thai curry soup, muffins, waffles, cupcakes. The possibilities are endless.

    1. Thank you, Alice. Butternut squash is one of my favorites, too. The flavor and texture is very nice. I'm glad you have a good supply in the freezer for this fall and winter.

  2. I had never thought to use the skin, but it's good to know that it purees well in a food processor. You are always inspiring me with things to try. (Follow through is not always my strong point, though.)

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      The skin on large carving pumpkins is thin and softens readily after simmering. Today, I was peeling Sugar Pie pumpkin to cube and roast. The skin on pie pumpkins is definitely thicker than on Jack o' lantern or carving pumpkins. I saved the skin, chopped it, then simmered it until soft enough to cut with the side of the spoon. I was able to puree this skin, even though it was tougher than the Jack o' lantern skin. But I did have to simmer the pie pumpkin skin for a longer period. I'll add this mostly pureed skin to pumpkin when making quick bread later this week.

  3. Good to know about the skin! We haven't grown regular pumpkins recently, but I do grow Long Pie squash, Sweet Meats, etc...(which I use for "pumpkin" pies and breads and such), and I'd guess it would be the same with those. I've typically used a veggie peeler to remove a thin layer of the skin.

    1. Hi there,
      If the skin is thin on Long Pie and Sweet Meats, as is that on carving pumpkins, it should simmer up with the flesh as my pumpkin did. As I mentioned above to Live and Learn, today I tried peeling some pie pumpkin, then simmered it and pureed along with cooked inner stringy stuff from the pumpkin. It pureed okay. I did have to simmer it longer to get the skin soft enough. The resulting puree will be used in quick bread, where I think even if it has some texture, that will be fine with my family. Anyway, another way to get more food from what we grow or buy.

  4. You are truly masterful at utilizing your harvest. Have you ever used a white pumpkin or cinderella pumpkin in baking? Also - have you ever watched "brunch with Babs"?. She shows how to clean out the inside of pumpkins using a hand mixer. She has a lot of good tips and tricks up her sleeve. Anyway - good job and thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      I've baked with white pumpkins before and they worked out just fine. I've never baked a Cinderella pumpkin. I love the look of those pumpkins and tried to grow them a couple of years ago, without success. I'll try again some year.
      Thank you for mentioning Brunch with Babs. I'll look that up. The trick to clean out the pumpkin with a mixer sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you for sharing how you salvaged the JOL pumpkin that was happily a decor item. I recall at least one carving session when our kids were small and I'm sure we threw it away. I didn't see pumpkins on clearance at Walmart yesterday (Whew!) What does come on clearance is the canned puree pumpkin after Thanksgiving.

    Have a nice weekend!

    1. Hi Laura,
      I've been able to pick up canned pumpkin on clearance a couple of times. I'll be watching again this year after Thanksgiving. I hope you find some in your stores.

  6. Great job...! I'm not embarrassed to say I once picked up a large, fully intact pumpkin I noticed randomly off the side of country road one day as I drove by (figured it had bounced off a truck) -- because hey, free food...!. Took it home, roasted it and turned it into all kinds of goodies -- toasted seeds, soup, bread, cookies (and indeed freezing much of it as puree in pre-measured cup quantities). Tasted just as good as the canned stuff as far as I was concerned, with a price that couldn't be beat lol...!

    1. Hi friend,
      What a great story! And free is the best price ever! Thanks for sharing.


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