Harvest decorating is a sure sign that fall has arrived! Pumpkins can do double duty as harvest decorations and provide a powerhouse of good nutrition and savory flavor for meals and snacks. Use non-toxic paint or markers to decorate faces for Halloween, and then preserve the flesh to add fiber and valuable nutrients to your diet year round. Here is how to safely preserve pumpkin past harvest time.
Freezing is the easiest way to preserve pumpkin and provide the best quality product. Select full-colored mature pumpkins with a good texture. Scrub the outside with a produce brush under running water. Cut into cooking-sized sections and remove the seeds to be dried or roasted later. Cook until soft in boiling water, steamer, pressure cooker, or an oven. Remove pulp from rind and mash. Place in a container, cool quickly in a cold water bath, and stir occasionally. Pack into rigid containers leaving one-half inch headspace and freeze. Plastic bags can also be used if they are freezer storage quality. Complete information about containers and headspace can be found at https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/pumpkin.html
Drying and roasting the pumpkin seeds are two different processes. To dry, carefully wash pumpkin seeds to remove the clinging fibrous pumpkin tissue. Pumpkin seeds can be dried in a dehydrator at 115-120°F for 1 to 2 hours or in an oven on warm for 3 to 4 hours. Stir them frequently to avoid scorching. Use the dried pumpkin seeds, toss with oil and /or salt, and then roast in a preheated oven at 250°F for 10 to 15 minutes.
Home canning pumpkin butter, mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash is NOT recommended. There are no safe, tested home canning procedures for mashed pumpkins or pumpkin butters we can recommend. If you make something up yourself and guess wrong, the result could be botulism (a rare, but serious, illness caused by foodborne bacteria). Only pressure canning methods are recommended for canning “cubed” pumpkin. Select top quality pumpkins with a hard rind and string-less, mature pulp. Small pumpkins (sugar or pie) make better products. Wash pumpkin and remove seeds. Cut into 1-inch slices and peel. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil 2 minutes. Remember, do not mash or puree! Spoon hot cubes into warm prepared jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Fill the not cooking liquid over the cubes to cover them, still leaving 1-inch of empty headspace from top. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims with a clean, dampened paper towel, apply and adjust lids. Process in a recommended stovetop pressure canner according to USDA recommendations found in the University of Georgia’s So Easy to Preserve book or at nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/pumpkin_winter_squash.html. Process times are different for pint and quart jars, and the pressure setting will depend on the type of pressure canner you use and your altitude.
Think safety when planning to preserve pumpkin. Pumpkin is a low acid vegetable and requires special attention when preserving for later use to avoid food safety issues. Even though pumpkin butters are popular, there is no properly tested safe home canning method for room temperature storage. Choose quality pumpkins for preserving that will provide a source of fiber and valuable nutrients for your diet past the harvest season.