Pie pumpkins are those cute little pumpkins you often see piled up in baskets at Farmers’ Markets. They are usually fairly dark orange and have thick stems. This variety is very thick-walled and slightly sweet in flavor, which makes them perfect for using in soups, breads and pies.
I like to wash, seed and cut up my pie pumpkins, placing them in a 22-quart roaster for cooking. You can certainly just cook one at a time, though, either in the oven or in a pot on the stove. Pumpkins are a winter squash, so you cook them just as you would butternut or acorn–cut side down in a baking dish with about 1/2″ of water, tightly covered with foil at 400 degrees or so for about thirty minutes until soft. The whole idea is to be able to scrape the pulp from the outer skin. Sometimes, I will puree the pumpkin pulp with my KitchenAid attachment or even a blender to make it super smooth. It’s totally up to you. I don’t mind the added texture in breads and muffins, but I think the smoothness that the pureeing accomplishes is nice for pies and soups. Once you have the pulp ready, you measure it into amounts that you would like to use for your favorite pumpkin recipes and put it in freezer bags, double-bagging against freezer burn. Pumpkin is very easy to preserve in this manner. My only caution is that you do not cook it in a whole lot of water; the pulp can become soggy and lose its thick texture that makes it so nice for cooking and baking.
I was somewhat shocked the first time I did this, because my pumpkin puree was not dark orange like canned pumpkin. However, the flavor and texture is greatly improved over the store-bought options–even though my breads and pies looked a bit “anemic” to me.
On a side note, if you have no interest in cooking with these early pumpkins, you can always wash the outsides with a diluted bleach solution and cure them in the sun with the hope that they will last for your fall decorations.