Queensland Blue Pumpkin Butter

I’m not always a fan of using the freezer for food preservation.  Maybe one day, if I have a chest freezer and some more space, but for now there’s just not enough room to really make much use of it.  Right now I use it for meat and fish, frozen bags of cooked greens, a few jars of pie filling and this pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin butter is epic.

Pumpkin butter deserves as much space in the freezer as it needs.  It is totally worth it.  If you’ve made pumpkin butter before, I’m probably preaching to the choir, but if you haven’t ….  you need to go get a pumpkin.  It’s like pumpkin pie in a jar.  I usually use it instead of plain pumpkin puree to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin lattes that are about a million times better than anything from Starbucks. (Did you know that most “pumpkin spice lattes” are just lattes with nutmeg and cinnamon? There’s really no pumpkin involved in most of them.  Try something like this instead.)queensland blue pumpkinMaking this made me really think about how ridiculous it is to measure out  specific amounts of ingredients for recipes since no two vegetables taste exactly the same.  With the wide range of varieties available from seed catalogues and at farmers markets, it makes so much more sense to learn the general method for a recipe, taste it as you go and adjust accordingly.   Last fall, I made pumpkin butter with sugar pie pumpkins and it took about four times as long to reduce down to the correct thickness and had a stringy, mushy texture that needed a lot of pureeing and reducing.   Not only did this year’s batch cook much faster since the flesh of this variety is very firm and dry, but the pumpkins also had so much flavor on their own that I really didn’t need to do much of anything to get the rich, luscious pumpkin taste that the finished product should have.

My favorite winter squash varieties have very firm, dry flesh that is dark yellow or orange, very flavorful and great for both savory and sweet recipes.  Buttercup, kabocha, jarradhale, and queensland blue are my current standbys, but if you look at winter squash section of the Baker Creek Seed catalogue, you’ll see there are about another ninety varieties and by no means have I tried them all. pumpkin butterHere’s the deal:  this is an easy recipe because it’s just going in the freezer.  You might find some pumpkin butter recipes in older cookbooks that say it’s safe for water bath canning, but it’s a lies.  I guess the USDA used to say it was okay but changed their minds.  The current guidelines say that pumpkin butter isn’t safe for water bath canning OR pressure canning.   (Did you really catch that if you’re skimming this?)

PUMPKIN BUTTER IS NEVER SAFE FOR CANNING. NOT IN A WATER BATH AND NOT IN A PRESSURE CANNER EITHER.

As much as I love to question authority, I’m not a scientist so I’m just going to follow the rules.  Marisa from Food In Jars has a thorough explanation over on her website here.  If you don’t have a freezer and are desperate for something that can go in a jar, SB Canning has a recipe for faux pumpkin butter that’s safe for water bath canning.

Step 1: Roast a pumpkin

To do this, poke a couple holes in it with a knife or a toothpick.  Put it on a cookie sheet. Put it in the oven at 350 degrees.  (You’ll know it’s cooked when a knife slides into the flesh easily – OR- if you press on the skin with your finger and it feels soft and gives to pressure – OR – you see little bubbles of caramelized sugar coming out of those holes you poked earlier.  Or all of those things. Maybe that’s obvious, but at my first kitchen job, it took me about three months to get the hang of properly baking potatoes.  Just so they were cooked through, like a normal baked potato, and not raw in the middle. Don’t make fun of me, it’s true.)

Step 2:

Wait for the pumpkin to cool off.  Then cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for other projects.  The cooked flesh should come apart from the skin pretty easily at this point.  Put the flesh into a large, nonreactive pot and discard the skin.

Step 3:

Add the seasonings, puree, and cook on low heat until the mixture has thickened.  This variety of pumpkin is going to make a puree that’s already quite thick, so it won’t take all that long, about 45 minutes. Since this flesh is so dry, I found that it worked well to use a cup or two of apple juice as part of the sweetener.  It enhances the flavor and adds enough liquid to make it possible to puree everything with an immersion blender.

Ingredients to add:

  • apple or pear juice
  • brown sugar, honey or molasses
  • white sugar to taste
  • cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, fresh, powdered or candied ginger, cardamom, whatever you want really…

I added apple juice, molasses, white sugar and some cinnamon and cooked the puree for another hour on very low heat, stirring it more often as it got really thick.   It ended up tasting perfect, just like eating pumpkin pie.  If you’re unsure about the seasonings, just add a little at a time and keep tasting it.  I added more white sugar than I originally thought I’d need, but if you just keep adding a little and tasting it eventually the flavors will lock in just right and really sing.  At this point, you should step away and stop messing with it or the everything can get muddled and weird.

Step 4:

Transfer the pumpkin butter to tupperware or jars and store in the freezer. Remember to leave about 3/4″ headspace on your jars and not to screw the lids down too tight or they’ll crack as they freeze solid.  pumpkin pieDON’T FORGET: Now that you have pumpkin butter made, you can whip up a pumpkin pie in about three minutes. The instructions are in this post from last year. 

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts

This is the best soup that I know how to make. Since I like you guys so much I wanted to share the recipe with you since it’s perfect for the holidays.butternutsquashbisqueMy mom has been making a version of this to serve on Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  I think she got it from either Sunset Magazine or Bon Appetit (an educated guess based on on the huge stacks of Sunset magazines she has in the front closet, years of subscriptions from a time before the internet). I never saw the original recipe, and it’s evolved a lot over the years as I tinkered around with it. This version that I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve settled on and have been making for quite awhile now.squashWinter squash always is a staple in our house since it’s so easy to preserve. We’ll grow a rainbow of different varieties during the summer and then keep them in bins in the pantry for the cold months. My favorites types are butternut, kabocha, and buttercup, although there are so many different varieties that it’s hard to really narrow it down to just those. This soup will work with any combination of what you have, though I have noticed that it doesn’t come out quite as good with pumpkin. Try to stick with varieties with drier, solid flesh, like butternuts. Sweet potatoes or yams will work just as well if you happen to have those.

Oh, and a note to any gardeners who were unsure about this: To preserve winter squash, just cut it off the vine when it’s ripe, leaving the stem attached, and store in a cool, dark place.  Ideally you’ll get them before they’ve gotten frosted on and left out in the rain for days, but I’ve also found some hidden out in the December garden that are still just fine.  Usually they’ll keep for months, but it’s a good idea to check your stash every so often to see if there are any that have soft spots or tiny bits of mold popping up.  That’s all you have to do. They really just preserve themselves.snowy trees

This recipe would be a wonderful light lunch for Christmas or New Year’s, a great for a weeknight supper when it’s freezing outside, or, if you’re busy and haven’t got a lot of time for cooking, make it in advance by a day or two when you have time and then reheat it. It may thicken a bit in the fridge but just add some water to thin it out and check the seasonings again.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 12 c. cubed winter squash (peeled and seeded first*)
  • 8 c. water or stock
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the winter squash and water (it should be enough to cover the cubed squash, but feel free add more. Turn the heat to low and simmer everything for an hour or two. Remove from the heat and puree with your tool of choice (blender, immersion blender, etc.). Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat and stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, topping each bowl with a few tablespoons of blue cheese, a sprinkle of nuts, and some fresh parsley.

Note: The gorgonzola cheese sounds weird if you haven’t tried it before but it’s vital. Don’t skip it or switch to a different cheese unless you’re allergic to moldy cheese or something. I’ve tried it with goat cheese and it’s not the same at all.

*I feel like there are already a million places on the internet that explain how to prepare winter squash. If you need help, just google. The main thing is to have a sharp chef’s knife and just to go for it — it really only takes a minute.

Happy Holidays!