Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part II - Get Set

In the United States of America, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November.  If that's confusing, take heart in knowing that someday Thanksgiving will be moved to a convenient nearby Monday, to take the mystery out of whether your stoonahd of a boss is going to let you have a four-day weekend or not. 

I'm not insulting your intelligence when I tell you this.  You obviously can read.  But I’m not taking any chances.  Not once, in the 34 years of my marriage, has a year gone by that I don't have to tell my husband, Anthony, when Thanksgiving is.  And he always acts surprised. 

Anyway, Thanksgiving will be here in just a little more than four weeks.  I start cooking today.

"But Connie," you might ask, "what kind of an idiot starts cooking Thanksgiving dinner four weeks ahead of time?"

This kind of idiot.  Right here.  In fact, I recommend getting started on your first day off after Halloween.  Every year.  It's psychologically important.  I always feel like I'm getting a jump on the holidays, instead of letting them sneak up on me.  It keeps the panic to a minimum.

Look, it's a BIG freaking meal.  I got enough agita.  And I'm busy, because Christmas is coming, too.  You gotta take it slow.  One small (but brilliant) step at a time.  The whole point of "Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey" is to learn how to do holidays with as little grief as possible.  Because, you know, you might actually want to enjoy them.

So that means we've got to start now.  Trust me.  Remember those pumpkins I told you to buy?  

Go get them.

First, wash them in the sink.  Just to keep dirt from flying around in your oven.  I don't know if dirt does that, but just in case.  Pat the pumpkins dry.  And roll up your sleeves.

You're going to need a big cutting board, a couple of your biggest baking pans, and a BIG-ass pointy knife.  Lay the pumpkin on its side and cut it in half, width-wise, along the equator.  This is the hard part, and the first cut is the hardest (just sort of stab it, but carefully).  Then slowly work your way around.  It kind of breaks in two after a while.  Now, scrape the innards out of the pumpkin halves.  If you've got kids, or a husband whose got nothing better to do, they can separate the seeds out of the slimy stuff and you can toast them in the oven with a little salt.  I'm not doing that this year, since the kids are grown and not around, Anthony wants to watch the game, and my hips don't need pumpkin seeds. 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line your baking pans with foil and spray the foil with some non-stick stuff.  (If you want to skip the foil and be "green", go for it.  But don't say I didn't warn you.)

Put your pumpkin shells, skin-side-up, on the baking pans (if they don't fit, cut them into smaller pieces, but they should fit).  Put the shells in the oven and cook the shit out of them.  About 2 hours, or even more.  They're done when they feel real soft when you stick a fork in, and they collapse.  

Take the pumpkin out of the oven and set aside to cool.

It's cool?  We're in the home stretch.

Get the largest bowl in your kitchen and a big metal spoon.  Scrape the cooked pumpkin away from the skin, into the bowl.  Scrape it good, you should only have a thin, floppy skin left (throw that away).  Now take a potato masher and smash the living daylights out of it, fishing out any pieces of pumpkin skin that might be lurking in there.  I mean really smash it.  Take your time.  Get it as smooth as possible.  This is good exercise and good therapy.  Sure, you could use a blender or a food processor but, personally, I like to smash things. 

Last step:

Get a bunch of little containers, with lids.  Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Ziplock, the little plastic containers leftover from the olive salad at the deli counter, whatever.  Measure out two cups of pumpkin into each container and put them in the freezer.  Pumpkin freezes really well.  Most recipes (a pie for Thanksgiving, for instance) use two cups of pumpkin, so one-and-done.  You've got some treats to look forward to.

This year I got 11 cups of pumpkin for my efforts.  That made four containers of two cups each, and one container with three which I'll use for soup.

And, damn, am I proud of myself.  I've got this.

A word of warning:  home-cooked fresh pumpkin looks a lot different from the stuff in the cans (it's gold, not orange) and your Thanksgiving pie will have a different texture, lighter and less dense (in other words, perfetto).  If you've got some people in your family who are absolutely addicted to the recipe on the back of the can of Libby's (the one with the condensed milk), you're going to get some push-back.

That's fine.  They can go do Thanksgiving at McDonald's.


  1. See Connie? This is why the world needs you. I think of myself as a not too stupid person but it never occurred to me to cook the pumpkin ahead of time and freeze it. I always just made everything the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever and stressed myself out and cursed my lazy family for not being as zealous as I am and swore at the dog and drank too much wine. I get it now. Make it AHEAD of time. Duh. And good tip about the color of the pumpkin. The first time I used a "real" pumpkin I scared myself and everybody else when it turned out tannish gold. My family was also shocked to discover that cranberry sauce doesn't actually have a can shape in real life.

  2. great minds think alike...I also freeze my pumkin, - cut into squares and completely clean of seed and peeled. it actually freezes really well.
    great tips babe!

  3. I love pumpkin but peeling it off is exhausting. No way I'm going to use canned pumpkin though. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy (for obvious reasons) but I love the American traditions behind this Holiday. Keep stuffing my friend! PS. Sorry for being MIA, hope you are doing great with everything! Baci, Coco et La vie en rose fashion blog - Valeria Arizzi


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