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Real pumpkin puree (not from a can!)

It's pumpkin time! Pumpkins are plump and ready for harvesting everywhere you look. And when I say pumpkin I'm not necessarily talking about the spherical orange thing you might gut and carve up to decorate your porch this time of year, I'm talking about the winter squash that is incredibly delicious in a myriad of yummy fall recipes.  Just imagine—soups, pies, and cakes, oh my! Jon loves the pumpkin flavor and begs me very year to get him the "special edition" foods that crop up right about now, like pumpkin spice coffee cream, and pumpkin ice cream, and for his birthday, when I offered him anything he wanted, he did a quick internet search and found a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake.  Of course, these pumpkin-tastic foods are possible all year round if all you do is visit your grocer's aisle of canned "goods" (what, after all, is so good about food in a can?), but there is absolutely no substitute for fall dishes made with real pumpkin puree (as opposed to the kind that comes out of its vessel still shaped like a can). Thanks to Jon's predilection for it, I'll be sharing lots of great pumpkin recipes this fall, but since most of them call or "pumpkin puree" (usually even more bluntly put as "15.2 oz canned pumpkin puree") I thought I'd start with the basics, and share how I make my own, straight from the fruit itself.

Real pumpkin puree (not from a can!)

•Pie pumpkins (also called sugar pumpkins)

1. Select a heavy feeling pie pumpkin(s) with few blemishes on the skin. Clean carefully, then cut in halves or quarters (I do quarters) and remove strings and seeds (set seeds aside if you want to roast them later).

2. Now it is time to steam the pumpkin, and there are several different options for this. I have steamed pumpkin the microwave (although I don't recommend it), on the stove in a double pot steamer, and also in the oven in a roaster (which is how I did it this time). I put an inch of water in my roaster, added the pumpkin, then baked in the oven, covered, for sixty to ninety minutes, or until they were very soft and the skins peeled away easily from the flesh (you can test this by pulling at the skin with a pair of tongs).  When finished remove them from the oven and allow to cool until they can be comfortably handled.

3. Peel skins away from flesh of pumpkin and discard. Put pumpkin flesh in a large bowl and first mash (I use a potato masher to start), then puree until smooth. Since the pumpkin is still warm when I am pureeing I avoid using the food processor, which is made with plastic, and use my submersion mixer instead. I get a wonderful consistency with that tool!

4. Pour any excess water off, then transfer puree to a fine mesh colander, or a colander lined with cheese cloth. Set colander inside a large bowl and refrigerate, covered, overnight or for 12-18 hours.

5. Remove colander and divide puree into 1.5-2 cup portions (about 1.75 cups is equivalent to a standard can of pumpkin from the store). Pumpkin puree can be used right away, kept in the fridge for about a week, or frozen for several months, but it is not recommended for canning.