50 Ways to Lose Your Pumpkin (part 2)….Can it Baby!

Canning pumpkins is a new venture for me.  We had plenty to work with, as I mentioned in “50 Ways…part 1“.  We kind of go overboard with some of the holidays.  That’s one of the things I love about Grumpy; he doesn’t hesitate to go overboard when it comes to holidays for the kids.  This is a photo of the early preparations.  Grumpy made those tombstones for me out of plywood and scrap lumber.  They’ve been holding up about 5 years now.  There is a lot of bloody looking stuff that gets added as the day goes on, and light up creatures in the trees and upper windows, “bats” flying in the sky (a light effect), fog machine, scary noises and (my favorite) we actually have a real creepy old burial ground across the street!  Halloween central- woohoo!  I’m not sure if it’s the burial ground or not, but we get slaughtered with crowds of kids here!

But back to pumpkins…..  So I managed to save one perfect sugar pumpkin to can this year.  These are the kind you want for pies and other baked goods.  Nice strong flavor, almost sweet and not grainy.  Pumpkin can only be safely canned in a pressure canner, and it must be in chunks.  Once you puree it the density is too great for canning, and you run the risk of not killing all the anaerobic bacteria (and you can get botulism!!! ).  Start by putting a kettle of water on to boil (or two); then start sectioning your pumpkin with a very sturdy knife.  Clean it out thoroughly, and scrape the stringy part out of the inside.  It’s easier to peel if it’s in strips like this photo.  (Okay- you caught me; that is a photo of a Jack O’Lantern type pumpkin.  The same principal applies.  I just didn’t get a photo of my sugar pumpkin in this state).  After it’s peeled, chop it into roughly 1 1/2- 2 inch pieces.

Next, put your pumpkin into a large stainless steel pot.  I usually use an 8 qt dutch oven.  This is not that one, and it’s not even stainless steel.  That pan was busy and I was lazy.  Carry on.  Now cover the chunks with the boiling water, heat on high, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  While this is happening, check to make sure your jars are clean.  That’s all- you do not need to sterilize them!  They get totally sterile in the pressure canner.

Strain out the pumpkin and place in to jars (like the photo).  Fill loosely to about 1 inch from top.  When you’ve filled all the jars, pour more boiling water into them to about 1 inch from the top.  The pumpkin will settle some.  Use a chopstick or plastic tool to swirl out any air bubbles.   Put the metal lids (not rings) into HOT water to soak for a few minutes.

Prepare the canner by pouring more hot/boiling water inside (I like to put about 4 inches in because I’m paranoid about it running dry).  Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to keep your jars sparkly (they get permanently cloudy if you forget).

Now back to the lids:  Wipe the rims of the jars first with a damp towel (cloth or paper).  At this point I like to wipe the rims with either a paper towel dampened with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  It doesn’t get into the jar (I said “damp”) and helps to ensure a good seal.  Put those lids on, tighten the rings to almost tight (called “finger tight”, not “professional wrestler tight”).  Place in canner and turn the heat waaaay up.  When the hissing starts to get noticable, put the weight on and when it starts jiggling, set the timer for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.  I chose quarts as I believe I’ll get no more than a can of pumpkin would have after draining off the water.  When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone to cool.  You can cool it in the canner overnight if you have to.  Do not remove weight or lid if there is any pressure remaining and until they have cooled down enough to minimize burns.  If they are warm (or not too hot) after you remove the weight and lid, place them on a towel to finish cooling.  Wipe them down, carefully remove the rings and check the seal.  If you ever have a failed seal, even if it’s been cooling overnight, it’s still safe.  Just put it into the refrigerator and either use it or reprocess it within a week or so.   I got 4 quarts of cubes from one good-sized pumpkin.  If you look closely in the photo, you can just see a bit of a jar full of beans behind the pumpkin.  Since I still had some room in the canner, I popped some dried beans into pint jars to can.  I hate running a half empty canner- it just seems like a wasted opportunity.  Put the dry beans in until jar is 1/3 full, then top with boiling water to 1 inch from top.  Finish the sealing in the usual manner. 90 minutes later you have perfect canned beans!

There must be 50 ways to lose your pumpkins… Part 1 of 2 (with apologies to Paul Simon)

If you asked me where most of the world’s pumpkin supply was grown I’d say it was within 10 square miles of my front door.  Evidently, I would be wrong.  The town of Morton, (near Peoria) Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  They claim to grow almost 90% of all pumpkins grown in the US of A.  I’m sure they must be correct.  I mean, after all, they wouldn’t have the gourds to make stuff up, right? ;-)

I still have my doubts.  We seem to be in pumpkin central.  You can’t drive in any direction from my house without passing a pumpkin patch or roadside stand.  I might have gone a little overboard myself.  It started with Halloween decorating.  First it was the Jack O’Lantern pumpkins.  Just a few (few being 6).  Then a nice sized sugar pumpkin (for “putting aside”).  Then somehow our Jack collection grew to a dozen, although some were just mixed into the mums around the house and driveway (and many were not even carved).  Then I just had to have at least a dozen smaller sugar pumpkins to place on the front porch railings (in exactly even spaces- I may have gotten carried away).  It was 2 straight weeks of pumpkin heaven.

And then comes November 1st.  I tried to convince Grumpy that pumpkin means fall; it’s not just a Halloween deco.  First, he got rid of the Jack O’Lanterns.  Then he started giving the hairy eyeball to the big, uncarved pumpkins mingling (hiding in terror) among the mums.  Finally he wanted to take down my sweet pumpkin menagerie from the porch!  Time for a compromise.  I convinced him that the porch pumpkins should stay until after Thanksgiving, and agreed to process (put aside) or dispose of the rest.

So…it started with selections.  Anything that didn’t make the “cut” was taken out to the woods for the enjoyment of the wood fairies.  Then the real cutting happened.  Two good sized pumkins were selected: a sugar pumpkin for canning and a Jack was set aside for more savory dishes.  That Jack was a Beast! I scooped, cleaned, sectioned, peeled and cubed like crazy.  Roasted just a small batch of seeds this year as we really just pick at them.  The rest always go out to the birds, who might not appreciate the sodium.  Half of Jack went into the freezer for future use (maybe some ravioli, rissoto, etc).  I chose freezer for the savory pumpkin as it should have a bit more texture.  The rest of Jack was destined for pumpkin soup.

I wasn’t in a “find a recipe” mood, more like a “just wing it” mode, but here’s the scoop: I sauteed a small chopped onion in a bit of butter (a bit= a hunk).  Then I added the pumpkin, chicken stock to cover (it’s actually floating in the photo), 3 Bay leaves, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp rosemary.  This was cooked until the pumpkin was soft.  I removed the Bay leaves, used a stick mixer (wand?) to whip it silky smooth.  Then I added some heavy cream; about a cup.  Then a good grind of pepper.

Then, just for fun, I swirled a tiny bit of cream in the center of the bowl when I served it to my unsuspecting tasters.  The survey says:  PJ says it’s “not bad”, Avery declined to participate (she’s 14, sigh),  Grumpy and Syd gave it 2 thumbs up (Bailey was not home).  My opinion: it can’t hold a candle to pumpkin rissoto, but it’s still a very tasty fall soup.  So this one will be a keeper.



He got me again!

Here are two facts about us:

1) We love Halloween. We decorate like crazy and stock up for hordes of kids. Last year we had a snow storm, the town lost power and Halloween was delayed for several days. We cleared away the snow and tree limbs, redecorated the yard and handed out treats to more than 300 kids. That was about 200 less than the year before. The funny thing- this is a really small town and I’m not sure how we even get 300 kids, never mind 500!

2) We love practical jokes. Actually, I like almost all jokes.  Corny, older than dirt, risque, the punnier the better.  Practical jokes are a little different.  A little fun once in a while, but too often they are at someone else’s expense.

After that late Halloween, I hit the local drug store for some emergency essentials (that would be the marked down candy).  I like to get lots of colorful candy (marked WAY down) to save for those gingerbread houses.  You know- the ones that keep your nephews busy (and sugared up) on Christmas Eve?I love those things.

Anyway- here I was at the store and they had Halloween decorations marked down to like 80% off! Right in the middle of really tacky costumes, etc, they had a Grim Reaper. He was 6ft tall, with glowing red eyes. He had a motion sensor and would make growly noises when someone approached. How could anyone NOT buy him???

My hubby was away on business, and not available for consult.  When I got him home I assembled him, just to be sure all his parts were there.  He was kind of scary looking.  The kids and I thought it might be “funny” to put this fella down in our basement. Our basement is always scary.  Here is the stairway going down:

Those stairs are curving around and you can’t see what’s coming.  We put him around the stairs and over by the wood bin.  How funny when Dad goes to grab some wood, right?

Well, Dad never told us that he found him.  I guess he thought it was a good prank. Instead of telling us, he kept it going.  Next time I went down to get something out of the freezer, guess who was just around the corner?  A few months later, I went to check the oil level in the tank.  Guess who was propped in there with the tank? This morning I ran down the stairs in a hurry.  I was in the middle of trying to get a couple more things done before heading out and guess what was waiting at the bottom of the stairs?

I’m really, really sorry that I started this.  I’ve learned my lesson.  I won’t leave any more scary things out to surprise you with.  And I will always make a potty trip before going into the basement.  Can we just stop now, PLEASE?