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Preserve Halloween pumpkin for holiday cooking

By April Reese
University of Georgia

Instead of carving a face in your Halloween pumpkin, make it do double duty. Use nontoxic paint or marker pens to create a jack-o'-lantern face instead, and then harvest the vegetable after the holiday.

Elizabeth Andress, project director for the National Center for Home Food Preservation, says preserving pumpkins can be fun and delicious.

"After Halloween has passed, the pumpkin flesh inside can be preserved by canning, drying or freezing and makes excellent freezer or refrigerator preserves," Andress said. "Pumpkin seeds can also be dried or roasted for a delicious treat."

Freezing

Put pumpkin butter or mashed and pureed pumpkin in the freezer. "Freezing is the easiest way to preserve pumpkin and yields the best quality product," Andress said.

  • Select full-colored, mature pumpkins with fine texture.
  • Wash and cut the pumpkin into cooking-size sections, and remove the seeds.
  • Cook it until it's soft in boiling water, steam, a pressure cooker or an oven. Then remove the pulp from the rind and mash it.
  • Place the pan containing pumpkin pulp in cold water to cool it, stirring occasionally.
  • Pack it into rigid containers, leaving headspace, and freeze it.

Seeds

Dried or roasted pumpkin seeds are a delightful treat, Andress said. And they're easy to make.

Carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging, fibrous, pumpkin tissue. You can dry the seeds in the sun, in a dehydrator (for 1 to 2 hours at 115-120 degrees Fahrenheit) or in an oven (on "warm" for 3 to 4 hours). Stir them often to avoid scorching them.

Once they're dried, toss the seeds with oil and salt. Roast them in a preheated oven at 250 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pumpkin and winter squash are low-acid foods capable of supporting the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes botulism, a potentially fatal illness, Andress said.

Safety

"Home canning isn't recommended for pumpkin butter, mashed or pureed pumpkin. It's difficult to control important factors like thickness, acidity and water when pumpkin isn't cubed," she said.

While pumpkin butters and preserves are popular, they can't be safely canned for room temperature storage. Refrigerate or freeze these items to make sure they're safe.

To can pumpkin, you'll need 16 pounds for seven quarts or 10 pounds for nine pints. "Small pumpkins make better products," Andress said. "Pumpkins and squash should have a hard rind and stringless, mature pulp."

  • Wash the pumpkin. Remove the seeds, cut it into 1-inch-wide slices and peel it.
  • Cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes. Place it in a saucepan with enough water to cover it.
  • Boil it 2 minutes in water.
  • Fill the jars with the cubes and the cooking liquid, leaving 1-inch headspace. Make sure the liquid covers the cubes.
  • Adjust the lids and process the jars.

Canning

Processing times and pressures vary greatly. Elevation and container type and size determine the right levels. Visit the Food Preservation Web site to find the right levels at www.uga.edu/nchfp/. Or contact your county University of Georgia Extension Service office.

Only pressure-canning processing is recommended for canning cubed pumpkin. All low acid foods, including pumpkin, must be canned using tested pressure-canning processes, Andress said.

For more information about preserving pumpkins or any other food, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site at www.homefoodpreservation.com. Contact the experts at (706) 542-3773 or foodpres@uga.edu.

(April Reese is a writer for the National Center for Home Food Preservation with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

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