When I set out to make pumpkin butter for the first time, I had elaborate visions of pre-roasting the pumpkins to concentrate the flavor, adding unexpected spices, and waiting for hours for the slowly simmering brew to be ready. After getting results that tasted nothing like fall, or pumpkin pie, or even pumpkins, I stopped to reconsider my strategy. When it comes to something as rustic and seasonal as pumpkin butter, I thought, perhaps it's best to keep it simple.
I started again, this time sticking to these guidelines:
"If it grows together, it goes together."
Following this wise adage, out went the orange juice I had been using to keep the pumpkins moist as they roasted. In went the apple cider.
In many parts of the country these days, are you are likely to find sugar pumpkins (also called "cooking pumpkins" or "pie pumpkins"), apple cider, and maple syrup. These make up three of the main ingredients in this recipe.
Stick with classic fall flavors
Most of us love pumpkin butter for its familiar and homey flavors. Star anise, which I put in one of my early pumpkin butter attempts, is not exactly a pumpkin pie classic, so I got rid of it.
Instead, I used my favorite pumpkin pie spices in the amounts and proportions I like.
Be like a witch standing over the cauldron
I put the roasting pan and food mill away when it dawned on me that pumpkin butter works great as a one-pot wonder. Not quite as fast as chanting "lizards and gizzards, pumpkin stew..." but the new process was quicker, neater, and yielded tastier results when I switched to the cauldron method.
I put peeled pumpkin cubes in a pot, barely covered them with apple cider, and cooked them until they were soft. The next step was to purée them, spice and sweeten up the pot, and let the whole thing simmer until the pumpkin butter was thick and spreadable.
I ended up with this recipe, which I like very much. Unlike my earlier orange zest- and star anise-spiked versions, this one actually tastes like the kind from a farm stand: sweet pumpkin flavor warmed up with some cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
What about canned pumpkin?
I know the question is out there: can I use canned pumpkins instead? Peeling and cubing a fresh pumpkin is really not that much work, but there are times when canned pumpkin is the only practical option. So the answer is yes, instead of cooking the pumpkin pieces in apple cider, add the apple cider to the purée along with the spices.
About the author: Kumiko writes the blog Recipe Interrupted. She believes that having a few cooking techniques under your belt can help make home cooking creative and easy, and is excited to share these basics here on her regular column Technique of the Week. A graduate of Brown University, the Institute of Culinary Education, and a mother of two hungry girls, Kumiko is always trying to keep her Brooklyn kitchen smelling of something good.