When I was in Chicago recently, I saw my daughter’s housemate, Claire, slathering an English muffin with pumpkin butter. I had never tasted the stuff, but I’m a huge fan of apple butter, and the concept of a rich, smooth pumpkin spread appealed to me. Claire showed me the jar, from Trader Joe’s, and recommended it as a very decent store-bought variety.
Right then and there, I decided to make my own. I wanted to use “real pumpkin”, not canned, but you can use canned if that is your preference. (Note: If you do use canned, make sure it is pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling. The latter has many other ingredients besides pumpkin and is quite sweet.)
If you do go with fresh pumpkin buy a smaller one typically called a pie or sweet pumpkin. Although you can cook the large, carving pumpkins, the smaller ones are sweeter and less grainy – much nicer for cooking and baking.
Before setting to work on my own version, I checked out many other pumpkin butter recipes to see what commonalities I would find. It turns out that there is a basic formula: a few cups of cooked pumpkin purée (mashed pumpkin), spices, sweetener(s), and either lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for a tart element, simmered together for 10 minutes or more. Some recipes use other elements such as vanilla and such exotic spices as star anise (a beautiful, hard, star-shaped seed pod that has a subtle, licorice-like taste), but I decided to head for a more traditional pumpkin butter. My one slightly off-beat inclusion is fresh ginger instead of dry ginger powder, because I’m a fresh ginger-lover, candied or plain.
This version is thick and not too sweet. The spices come through, but it doesn’t taste like a spreadable pumpkin pie. The taste of the pumpkin butter changes as the spread cooks and then cools down, so don’t draw hasty conclusions about how it tastes until the flavors have fully developed. Of course, if your tastes run sweeter or spicier than mine, you can always add more of the appropriate ingredients.
Yield – about 2 cups Cost – $4-5
- 1 small pumpkin (my 3½ pounder yielded about 3 heaping cups of purée)
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of apple cider or juice
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup honey
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ – ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1-2 pinches of ground nutmeg (fresh or dried)
- 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled (or ¼ – ½ teaspoon dried ginger powder)
- Small cookie sheet with sides, lined with aluminum foil
- Cutting board
- Large knife
- Spoon to scoop out seeds
- Measuring spoons
- Liquid measuring cup
- Medium size, heavy pot
- Large spoon
- Immersion blender or food processor
- Wash the pumpkin and carefully cut it in half through the center, so one half has the stem and the other the bottom. (Note – If you don’t have a big and sharp enough knife to cut it properly, don’t try. Better safe than sorry. I saw one recipe that recommended simply piercing a few holes, wrapping the pumpkin in foil, and baking it at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours. That seems like a reasonable alternative and you could raise the heat to 350 degrees to shorten the cooking time.) Scoop out the seeds and pulp, saving the seed for roasting separately.
- Pour ¼ cup of cider or juice on the aluminum foil-lined cookie sheet. The cookie sheet must have sides or the liquid will run off. The foil is essential to prevent hours of scrubbing “pleasure” after the pumpkin haves bake. Place the halves, cut side down on the cookie sheet, capturing some of the liquid underneath each one.
- Bake for about 45 minutes until they are soft enough that you can easily prick them all over with a fork. Don’t’ worry if some of the cider or juice gets burned on (you’ll throw away the foil and none of it should seep through), but if it bothers you, add a bit more cider/juice or water. Set the pan of cooked pumpkin aside until the halves are cool enough to handle.
- After a short while, you should be able to easily peel off the skin with your hands or a fork.
- Place the cooked pumpkin, any juices that remained on the pan, the maple syrup and honey, the spices, the piece of peeled ginger and 2 more tablespoons of the cider or juice in the pan.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. The mixture doesn’t act like liquid; it “burps” more than bubbles. Stir frequently. Midway through it may look stringy, but it will get more mashed-looking as time goes on. If the mixture is too thick for your taste, add a bit of cider or juice while cooking.
- Let the mixture cool down and remove the piece of ginger. Then smooth out its texture with a food processor (using the metal blade) or an immersion blender.
- Serve the pumpkin butter cold and keep it refrigerated, or freeze it.
Pumpkin butter is excellent on its own, or with cream cheese, on any type of cracker, baguette, or seriously good bread. I wish Claire could do a taste test. But now that I’ve seen how easy it is to make my own, it’s doubtful that I’ll get the store-bought version anytime soon.