I think I am pretty much on record as being a huge proponent of the crock pot, or the slow cooker. My mother and grandmother cooked in them ever since I can remember, and some of the best food I have ever eaten has been cooked for hours in one. There is simply nothing better than starting a great soup or meat dish in the morning before leaving for work, and then coming home after a long day to a hot, slow-cooked meal. I can cite a thousand excellent recipes for various chilis, soups and slow cooker dishes that I have loved since I was a kid. My favorites are this insanely easy carnitas recipe (which also cuts the fat of the dish in half) and my smoked chicken posole. I am the proud owner of a great 5-quart slow cooker that I love, and since I started making jams and preserving, I discovered that there are also amazing jam and fruit butter recipes — once again taking the work out of cooking.
Aside from being good for the recipes that aren’t even recipes (like keeping your nacho sauce or apple cider warm during a party, or putting frozen meatballs in a spicy sauce for an appetizer), it makes recipes that were previously complicated into simple comfort foods. Slow-cooked pulled pork is as easy as meat and sauce in a pot. Homemade stocks are as easy as a chicken carcass covered in water. Then you walk away and let the crock pot do all the work.
Do you have any idea how hard it used to be in the past to make apple butter? Imagine the poor chef, probably a tired woman with kids running around, standing over a hot stove for hours and hours. It makes me tired just thinking about it. Nowadays, the hardest thing you have to do to make apple butter (or apple-pear butter, apple-pumpkin butter, and so on) is chop up some fruit.
I adapted the Frontier Woman’s Homemade Pumpkin Puree – it’s amazingly easy and I didn’t even puree it at the end, I just put the chunks of roasted pumpkin in the slow cooker with the apples and spices. I barely did any work and it tastes fantastic!
Start with two small pumpkins … not the big, jack o’lantern type, but the smaller ones (with more flesh) that are used for cooking. Get a nice, sharp knife, and slice off the top (stem) and the bottom, then slice it up.
Roast the pumpkin over high heat. I don’t add anything – no oil, no salt, just to keep it pure – but if you know you’re using it for a spiced fruit butter or a pie, it wouldn’t hurt to add some spices before cooking to amp up the flavor. As is my favorite way to add flavor to stuff, I used my outdoor cooker to give the pumpkin just a little bit of a char.
Plus … raw pumpkin smells gross — roasted pumpkin smells incredible. Once the pumpkin is fork-tender, the pumpkin rind comes off easily, and you can pull out the pure pumpkin flesh to puree and freeze for later, or add spices for a pie. In my case, I dropped it straight into my crock pot with about 8 chopped Gala apples (but use your favorite type or whatever you have on hand), and some brown sugar and pumpkin spice (ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg). My personal method with recipes like this is to vary the amount of spices based on how much you’re making … and taste often to make sure the spices are to your liking. I think everyone would make this a little different.
I set the slow cooker on the high setting and cooked it with the lid on for about 5 hours, then I pureed it with an immersion blender. You can also take it out of the cooker, blend it in a blender or food processor, and transfer it back –or, if the fruit is soft enough you can even use a good potato masher while it’s still in the pot. Some people also like their fruit butters to stay chunky, so you may not want to puree it at all (but in that case, make sure you chop up the pumpkin first so it’s evenly distributed). Then cook it without the lid for about 3 hours. Cook it until the butter is thick and syrupy, and ladle it into sterilized, hot jars, and seal in a water bath for about 20 minutes.
Note: the USDA says home canners should never ever ever can pumpkin, period. I have found several reliable recipes for pumpkin apple butter — heavy on the apple — and that’s what this recipe is based on. If you are nervous about it at all, just keep the jars in the refrigerator. I believe this recipe is sound for canning based on the apples.
Don’t forget about the pumpkin seeds! These tasty morsels don’t have to be tossed. Roast them with olive oil and one of the following seasoning blends for about 20 minutes at 300 degrees.
- Ginger Soy: soy sauce, sugar, and ground ginger;
- Brown Sugar Spice: brown sugar, ground allspice, salt and cayenne pepper
- Maple Chipotle: maple syrup, chipotle chili powder, cumin and salt
- Curry Lime: fresh lime juice, curry powder, coriander and salt