Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Getting Pumpkins Out of Your Shower - or - Dehydrating and Rehydrating a Pumpkin

An offset spatula is your friend - not only is he great for cake frosting,
but he helps out with spreading pumpkin, too.
Pumpkins (and other winter squash) store well – this is one of the many awesome things about them. However, they’re not exactly the most convenient thing to deal with in the world. Before you can make delicious pies or breads, you have to bake and puree the darn thing. Most have a fairly long shelf life, but if you don’t store your winter squash in the right conditions, they can spoil rather quickly. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to dehydrate and powder your pumpkins and winter squash, leaving you with a space-saving convenience food.

While pumpkin may be canned, there's a few reasons I stick to dried. First and foremost, there is the issue of wetness. Boiling versus baking versus roasting versus Libby's will all yield different amounts of water in your puree. Cushaw versus Cinderella versus Sugar Pie - each pumpkin variety will be different. When you dehydrate and powder, they all become equal, allowing you to choose the moisture level upon rehydrating.Secondly, pumpkin will dry down to one quarter of the size it is when wet. For some people, that may not be a big deal. As I tend to fill up shelves with all kinds of other canned things, storing five quarts of dried pumpkin is way easier than about twenty quarts (or more) of canned pumpkin cubes. Coincidentally, that leads me to my third and final point - pumpkin cubes. Sadly, Big Brother tells us that we cannot can pumpkin puree, but oddly enough, neglects to mention why. This post on Living Homegrown goes into the reasons why you don't want to can puree - mainly, pH and viscosity. Since I find dried pumpkin easier to deal with in the long run anyway, I'm ceding this round to him.

This year, our pumpkins and other winter squash lived in the shower in the laundry room (don’t worry, we used the other shower instead). It was the best place we had to store them – cool room, no direct sunlight, and they weren’t likely to get kicked by accident. Eventually, though, they were coming to the use-it-or-lose-it point, so Mom and I cut them up, gutted them, tossed them skin-up on some half-sheet pans and threw them in the wood stove for a few hours.

There’s a few ways to cook pumpkin. When my wood stove is hot, I’ll use the oven there. Since the wood stove oven doesn't vent out the steam like a normal oven, I don't bother adding water to the pan. If I'm not burning a fire, I use the regular oven on 250* and pour some water on the bottom of the pan. I’ve seen some people who cut the meat off the skin and boil it. No matter what path you choose, cook the squash until it’s fork tender. Let it cool a bit, and remove it from the skin.

Once it’s off the skin, start pureeing the pumpkin. I like to do this in my food processor, but you could use a blender or food mill, if that’s what you have. (The smoother it is now, the easier it will powder and rehydrate later.) Spread the puree out about 1/4" thick on your fruit leather dehydrator trays – an offset spatula for cake frosting is really helpful here. My refurbished LEM dehydrator didn’t come with fruit leather sheets, so years ago, I ordered these that were made for Excalibur dehydrators, and they work like a charm for me. In the event that you don’t have/want to buy fruit leather sheets, you can use a gallon freezer bag split down the seams to make 2 sheets. It’s thicker than plastic wrap, and therefore less likely to tear and leave pieces of plastic in your pumpkin. I’ve also seen people who use parchment paper, but I’ve had bad luck using it in dehydrators. If it goes too long in there, sometimes the parchment paper will shatter into your food when you’re removing it.

The reason I don't worry about precise temperatures on dehydrating food is simple.
On my dehydrator, there are exactly two precise temperatures - 90* and 150*.
If I need something in between those two temps, I take a guess and it tends to work out well.
After you've got your sheets in the dehydrator, crank the heat to about 130-140* and let 'er rip. Here in super-dry Oklahoma, pumpkin will dry in about 8-12 hours. In Louisiana, where humidity is a way of life, I had batches that took 18 hours, and some that took all the way up to 48 hours. 8-12 hours is a good place to start, but if you've got high humidity, don't be surprised when it takes longer.

Your pumpkin is done when it feels dry to the touch and is no longer glossy. It can be peeled away from the fruit leather sheet and comes off in a solid mass. Break it up into chunks for easy handling, and it's time to grind! (If you think it's too wet, it probably is. You should be getting nice snapping noises when you break it up.)

In the past, I've used a variety of methods to powder dried pumpkin. Up until I killed my little Bullet blender, that thing was great for getting it down to a fine powder. How did I kill it? By grinding too many pumpkins in it, probably. Note that I have 5 quarts of ground pumpkin on my shelf, pumpkin dries down to about a quarter of the original size - I have run a LOT of pumpkin through there. It's not like this baby died overnight from gentle, loving use - it got abused regularly. But if you're more reasonable than me, and don't have THAT much pumpkin THAT often, blenders, food processors and even a mortar and pestle are good options.

My current go-to solution for grinding pumpkin is our Grainmaker grain mill. That thing is a beast. So far I've used it on corn and pumpkin, and it works fabulously. You can adjust the fineness of the powder that comes out. Again, the finer the pumpkin powder, the easier it will rehydrate.

*NOTE* No matter what you're using - blender, grain mill, food processor - toss a very slightly damp towel over the top, otherwise you'll sneeze pumpkin for days. (Ask me how I know...)

So! You're all ground up and ready to go. In south Louisiana, I put the powder (all my dried goods, really) into old glass jars and sealed them with my Pump-n-Seal. Think vacuum packer that works with any jar with a rubber gasket (old canning lids, salsa or jelly jars, etc.) and uses only manual labor to work. It's really neat, and when you live in a place with 90% humidity, you need some kind of way to seal up stuff. In northwest Oklahoma, I don't bother with the vacuum sealing. Today it's 10% humidity - yes, eventually that massive amount of humidity may get to my foods before I die, but they store just fine on the shelf in their canning jars with old mayonnaise lids on them for now. Also, I think my Pump-n-Seal is still 15 hours away at the old house in Louisiana...

Moving on - rehydrating pumpkin (or winter squash in general) is simple. Take 1/4 cup of powdered pumpkin and a scant 1 cup of boiling water. Mix and let sit until desired consistency is reached (should take maybe fiver minutes). This is where the texture of your powder really comes into play. If you've got a texture like corn flour, your pumpkin should come back to the original texture fairly quickly with no lumps. If it's more the texture of dried grits, you're probably going to have to help it along a bit. Just encourage it a bit with the blender (stick blenders work well here) and you'll have nice, thick pumpkin in no time. Then you're ready to bake deliciousness!

You can see the color variations - there's at least 4 different types of pumpkins in 2017 alone, not too sure on the others.
My 2015 has some larger pieces in the top, I either need to regrind him or just take the stick blender to him when I get ready to bake.
Shared on: The Homestead Blog Hop and Simple Saturdays

So Easy to Preserve - 5th edition, by Cooperative Extension, the University of Georgia.
Home Preserving Pumpkins - National Center for Home Food Preservation
Why Canned Pumpkin Puree is a No No - Living Homegrown

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