Cooking a pumpkin is much easier than you may think!
Here are some different methods for you to choose from. My favorite varieties to use for baking are Cinderella, Pink Banana Squash and Sugar Pie Pumpkins. You can cook a jack-o-lantern type pumpkin, only the flesh will be watery and stringy.
Before cooking the pumpkin do the following:
Choose a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size and is firm to the touch.
Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy material.
Cut into wedges or halves depending upon cooking method chosen.
In large pot with approximately an inch of water, add two pounds of chopped pumpkin pieces (the larger the chunks, the longer it takes to cook); bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and let simmer. Stir occasionally. Larger pieces take between 20 - 25 minutes to cook; cubing the pumpkin into half-inch cubes results in a quicker cooking time of 10 - 15 minutes. Cook until you can pierce the flesh easily with a fork. When cubing pumpkin, it's easiest to remove the skin first with a potato peeler; when using larger chunks, just peel the flesh from the skin after it's been cooked. Drain and let cool.
Fill large covered pot with 1 inch water; place a steaming rack inside. Add pumpkin pieces/chunks, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and steam for 30 minutes (or until tender). Remove flesh from skin once pumpkin has been drained and cooled.
This is my favorite method. Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material. If the flesh looks fairly dry, cover the cut side of each pumpkin half with a piece of foil. If it is moist leave it uncovered. Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake, foil side up in a preheated oven at 350 °F for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork. Don't worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor. When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh.
Finishing the Process:
Once the flesh has been removed using any of the above methods, mash with a fork or potato masher, or puree with a food processor or blender until smooth; then simply measure out the amount you need.
In general a 5 lb. pumpkin will yield approximately 4 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin pulp.
If you're using a recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, figure one 29 oz. can is equal to about 3-1/4 cups fresh, cooked, and pureed pumpkin. A 16 oz. can of pumpkin is the equivalent of approximately 2 cups of mashed pulp.
If your pumpkin pulp is too watery you may drain it in cheesecloth or a sieve. Alternatively you can cook it down to a thicker consistency in a sauce pan.
Use fresh pumpkin for all your recipes! You'll be amazed at the taste!
Time Saving Tip:
Depending upon your favorite recipe, place one cup (or 1/2 cup if that is what most of your recipes call for) into a freezer ziploc. Flatten like a slice of bread. Mark the date with a Sharpie and place in your freezer.
Cooked pumpkin pulp freezes extremely well, with no discernable loss of quality even when frozen for months.
When you are ready to bake your favorite pumpkin bread, cookie, pie etc., just place the ziploc on the counter. It will thaw in about 20 minutes.
Choosing the Right Pumpkin:
Depending upon the variety, pumpkins and winter squash have different culinary uses. Sweet and refined varieties are best for pies, while dry and dense varieties are well suited for soups and stews.
If you want to toast pumpkin seeds, some varieites have hull-less or semi-hull-less seeds.
Physical characteristics to look for in choosing a quality and fresh pumpkin or squash:
Choose a pumpkin that feels firm and heavy for its size.
Choose a pumpkin that has consistent coloring throughout.
Turn the pumpkin over and place pressure on the bottom with your thumbs. If it flexes or gives your pumpkin is not fresh.
Look for soft spots or open cuts that would indicate damage or early spoilage.
Choose a pumpkin with a solidly attached stem.
Don't worry about cosmetic blemishes or surface insect damage. They won't affect the taste.