Canned pumpkin from the grocery store, besides being convenient, works just fine as a filling for a pumpkin pie. But if you want the satisfaction that comes from baking something made with a pumpkin you cleaned, cut and prepared yourself, start with a sugar pumpkin.
Selecting a Pumpkin
For baking, choose a pie pumpkin -- otherwise known as a sugar pumpkin or baking pumpkin -- which is smaller, smoother and sweeter than a pumpkin you'd carve. Pie pumpkins are available at many pumpkin patches as well as large grocery stores.
Find a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size. It should be free of blemishes, soft spots and deep scratches, with a firm stem and an even orange color.
You may store pie pumpkins for up to 3 months before using them. Keep them in a cool, dry place and out of direct sunlight if possible.
Cleaning and Trimming
Start by cleaning your pumpkin. Wash it under running water and pat it dry.
Next, cut off and discard about 1/2 inch from the top part of the pumpkin, including the stem, and about 1/2 inch from the bottom part, including the knobbly base. Cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom with a sharp serrated knife.
Use an ice cream scoop or a large, firm spoon to scoop out all the pumpkin seeds and the stringy, fibrous strands that surround them. You may discard the seeds or save them for another recipe.
After that, you can peel the pumpkin's skin with a vegetable peeler. Alternately, you can first bake the pumpkin and then scoop the baked flesh away from the peel if you prefer to work with a softer pumpkin.
Microwaving your whole pumpkin for about 10 minutes will cut oven baking time in half and make it easier to remove the pumpkin's seeds and skin.
There are several ways to bake a pie pumpkin. One of the easiest is with the microwave. Put the pieces of pumpkin into a heavy, shallow dish, fill the dish with an inch or 2 of water, cover it and then microwave the pumpkin on high for 15 minutes. If it's not yet tender, continue cooking in 5-minute increments.
You can also steam the pumpkin or roast it in the oven. When your pumpkin is fully baked and cooled, drain off any excess liquid and puree the flesh. Use the puree immediately or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or the freezer for up to 3 months.