A month after the regular farmers markets closed for the season, I spied my pile of winter squashes sitting patiently, expectantly on my pantry floor. They could probably wait unharmed another month or more, but with Christmas and a family-dinner-pumpkin-pie-commitment just days away, I thought that I should tackle the task of transforming them into pumpkin mash before the last-minute holiday frenzy begins.
When I first started preserving, I preferred freezing to canning or drying. Freezing takes little time or effort and poses no food safety threat. However, after years of the kids (actually me) accidentally leaving the freezer door open or losing valuable goods in the frosty depths only to be discovered years later covered in freezer burn, I have turned to canning and drying whenever possible and reserve freezing for those veggies that strictly require it. Because canning pumpkin puree cannot be done safely in your kitchen even with a pressure canner, winter squash has become one of those few veggies that get frozen.
Pumpkin mash is a “must” for me as it enhances the texture and moisture of nearly all sweet treats made with whole wheat flour. If you remain unconvinced about the necessity of pumpkin mash because you still use white flour to make sweet treats, read this and then come back here for your pumpkin mash tutorial. Not into sweets? Pumpkin puree has other applications besides pumpkin pie and sweet treats. You can slip it into all kinds of soups, stews and sauces to thicken them and secretly add more veggies to your diet. I have a great squash soup recipe which requires mash. I shall post it soon.
How to Freeze Pumpkin Mash:
- Choose an appropriate winter squash: pie pumpkins, hubbard squash, and butternut are all good choices. Avoid large jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the flesh is too tough and stingy. Smaller squashes like acorn, carnival, and delicata have a good texture and flavor but have too little flesh to make it worth the effort.
- Wash the squash and peal the skin if it is a squash with smooth delicate skin like butternut, but leave it intact if it is tough-skinned like a hubbard. (Pealing isn’t necessary, it just makes mashing the cooked squash less messy).
- Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into smaller manageable hunks if necessary—the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks. If it is a large squash like a blue hubbard you may have to work a bit to get it open. A farmer-friend of mine shared her technique with me, “Toss it down the basement stairs. It cracks the squash wide open, and it is fun.”
- **Cook the squash until extremely tender with one of the following methods: Oven: Place hunks or halves in a baking dish. Then fill the dish with about an inch of water. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350◦ F for 1 -2 hours—until the flesh is tender. Roaster: Cook in a counter-top roaster at 350◦ F with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to make sure that the water doesn’t evaporate. Crock Pot: Cook about 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low—with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Stove-top: Steam or boil smaller chunks for about 30 – 40 minutes. **For each method, cook time may vary depending on the size of the hunks of squash.
- Once tender set it aside and allow to cool. Tender flesh is important—a little over- cooked is okay but a little under-cooked is not.
- Drain excess water. Use a spoon to scrape cooked flesh from the skin if it was not already pealed.
- Mash flesh with a potato masher or fork right in the pan or pot—no need to dirty another dish.
- Scoop out one cup portions onto plastic wrap or freezer paper.
- Wrap mash removing all air.
- Freeze wraps in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
- Transfer to a freezer bag or container and label. It will keep for 1 year.
Miscellaneous Winter Squash Information
Yield: about 1 cup of mash for every pound of butternut
Cooking: In pancake and waffle recipes, you can substitute about half of the milk required with pumpkin mash. 1 cup of pumpkin mush replaces 2/3 cup of milk.
Storing: Thin skin squashes like butternut can last up to 3 month and thick skinned squashes like hubbards can last up to 6 months if stored properly
Avoid washing the squash if possible until ready to cook. However, if you must, wash winter squash in 1 gallon of cool water with 1 teaspoon bleach. Dry thoroughly and keep in a cool dark place like the basement. Do not allow the squashes to touch one another. Do not store near apples.
Cooking with Kids: Food preservation can be hot and heavy work, but this tasks is the exception. Involve the kids all of the way through the process. Takes the kids to the market with you to buy the squashes–ask the farmer about the varieties available so you and the kids can learn about them at the same time. (You can still get squash from the Winter Farmers Market, by the way). Have the kids wash the outsides of the squashes, scrape out the seeds, and later they can mash and measure the cooked squash. Nothing is more fun to a little kid than mashing mush with their bare hands. Also don’t forget my farmer-friend’s technique. If you get a giant hubbard squash, the kids can also chuck it down the basement stairs for fun.
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