How to Butcher a Pumpkin…

When I was growing up, it was my uncles’ job to wield a big knife and peel the raw pumpkin so that my mom could bake pumpkin pie and make filling for canning. Watching one of “the boys” handle the knives while trying to carve away the skin of a raw pumpkin was usually a little scary and sometimes hilarious. It all depended on who was careful and who was just cutting up! When I moved into a home of my own, I had to learn a different way to separate skin from the flesh of a pumpkin because I am married to a man who loves pie, made from scratch, and he likes his pumpkin made that way as well.

Besides, it’s very cheap and easy to do. So here’s how to butcher a pumpkin in seven steps:

  1. Be sure that your pumpkin will fit inside the shallow baking sheet that you are going to be using. It doesn’t matter if both halves fit but you want to have the edges of the pumpkin completely inside the baking pan. Choosing the right sized pumpkin for this process is very important.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet

    Be sure that the edges of the pumpkin are inside the pan.
  2. Cut your pumpkin in half.

    Raw Pumpkin halves
    Raw Pumpkin Halves
  3. Carefully scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you have kids that want to help, this is a great chance to include them—handling the guts and seeds is really fun (and gross)! The seeds can be washed and baked with seasoning for an added treat.

    Scooping out the seeds
    Scoop out the seeds with a spoon
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
  4. Flip the pumpkins cut side down and place them onto a shallow baking sheet with a lip all the way around the pan. I used an Air-bake pan because it is double layered and gives improved stability while loading and unloading the heavy pumpkin from the hot oven.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet
    Place Pumpkins Cut Side Down
  5. Add a small amount of water to the baking sheet. Just enough to cover the surface of the pan about 1/4 inch deep. The water will boil and steam the pumpkin inside while the oven is baking it from the outside.
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
  6. Bake in a 350F oven until you can pierce the skin of the pumpkin with a fork. If you want the pumpkin to be more puree-like bake it longer. You may need to carefully add water while the pan is in the oven, but bake the pumpkin until it is as soft as you want it to be. The halves may collapse just a little bit as the insides get soft.
    Fork tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
    Fork Tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
  7. Finally, let the whole thing cool down. When it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin from the flesh and discard the skin. Then you can use it however you like. My last experiment was a simple blend of fresh apple chunks, some pumpkin chunks and curry powder to taste. No sugar and no recipe. I just mixed up what I had and popped it back into the oven to soften the apples. It was delicious!

This method of processing pumpkin is economical, healthy and easy. There are absolutely no additives or preservatives so the only thing that you will taste is pumpkin. It also works for winter squashes of all kinds.

So, if you decided NOT to carve your pumpkin for Halloween, consider Butchering and Eating It! You’ll be glad you did!

If you have any pumpkin tips or stories, I would love to hear from you! Please respond to this blog or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Quick Sugar Free Cupcakes

I don’t cook every day, but I can cook. My specialties are meat dishes and vegetables. Until now, I haven’t done much with deserts. Normally, when it comes time for my wife’s birthday, I’ll go to the store, buy a premade sugar free angel food cake, and decorate it for her with sugar free whipping cream and fruit as shown here:

Baking01

It’s a perfectly wonderful way to enjoy a birthday together, but I wanted to try something else this year. Unfortunately, as I previously stated, my cooking skills are of a highly practical nature and tend toward meat and vegetable dishes (such as the Brussels sprouts recipes in my Making Brussels Sprouts Palatable), so I decided to try a mix for my first baking attempt. I found a perfectly wonderful Pillsbury Sugar Free Classic Yellow mix and the accompanying Sugar Free Chocolate Fudge frosting at my local store.

Baking02

In looking at the ingredient list, I did find that there is a certain amount of sugar alcohol in both products, in addition to the Splenda. When I compared the other ingredients, I didn’t see any significant differences. So, what you’re getting is a cake mix and prepared icing that has a number of artificial sweeteners in it. The calorie content of both products is lower per serving, but this is most definitely not a low calorie food. There isn’t any free lunch when it comes to excess calories.

I decided to make cupcakes instead of a cake. Making cupcakes will allow us to freeze what we can’t eat immediately and take them out a little at a time for deserts. The directions on the back of the package are easy to understand. The batter turned out nice and smooth. Spooning it into the individual cupcake cups took a bit of practice, but I got the job done. I used a toothpick to check whether the cupcakes were done. When the toothpick is clean, the cupcakes are ready to go. Here’s a picture of me putting the frosting on.

Baking03

I did cheat a little and added some sprinkles to the cupcakes. So, they did end up having a modicum of sugar on them after all. Here’s the final result:

Baking04

As you can see, I had a little trouble keeping the cupcakes an even size. I’m sure that I’ll get better with practice. We ended up with 21 cupcakes instead of the 24 that the package said we were supposed to get. Even so, some of the cupcakes were a bit on the small side. Rebecca says she usually gets 18 cupcakes out of a package and I must admit that if mine had been more evenly sized, I probably would have gotten 18 too. Unless you want truly pathetic looking cupcakes, you won’t get 24 out of the package.

So, what did they taste like? The cupcakes turned out moist and I didn’t notice any difference from any other packaged cupcake I’ve eaten (I tried one without frosting so I could check the cupcake, rather than the cupcake with frosting). There wasn’t any difference in consistency either. Overall, I think someone would be hard pressed to tell the difference between these cupcakes and any other mix.

The frosting is a little smother than canned frosting with sugar in it and a bit less sweet. The frosting lacked any sort of aftertaste though, so you couldn’t really taste the artificial sweeteners. Even so, if someone thought it might be a sugar free product, they’d probably be able to tell the difference in the frosting. It doesn’t taste bad (quite the contrary), it’s just a little different.

My first experiment with sugar free baking has been a success, so I’ll try it again in the future. The next time I’ll try baking a cake. If you’re on a diet or diabetic, I can recommend this combination though as a sweet alternative to losing control over sugar.