Now, its definitely more work and more expensive to cook down whole pumpkins. But now that I've started, I just can't go back to cans. I find fresh pumpkin to be sweeter and more flavorful. Of course, it really does matter what kind of pumpkin you use. I have had great luck with pie pumpkins. Jack o' Lantern varieties (the really big ones) are oh so tempting because they're big and cheap, but the flavor is no where near as good.
This last year, I planted a few pumpkin vines, and they did wonderfully for how much work I put into them (not much). I got seven decently sized pie pumpkins. That's about 6-7 pies and/or custard batches right there!
Cooking them down is pretty easy. . .
Step One: Start as you would carving a jack o' lantern. Cut around the stem of the pumpkin, and then remove the step and the flesh around it.
Step Two: Slice the (partially opened) pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff from the middle. Save the seeds! You'll want to roast them later. 🙂
Step Four: Place the two halves of the pumpkin and the top (wouldn't want to waste any!) in the oven, fleshy side up. You'll want to put them on top of a large baking sheet, or even just a large piece of aluminum foil to keep down the mess. They probably won't fall apart, but they will probably collect some liquid.
Step Five: Bake for 1-1.5 hours at 350 degrees farenheit. Test them with a fork. Your pumpkins should be quite soft. Take them out of the oven.
Step Six: Scoop the soft flesh out of the pumpkin. It should separate easily from the skin. Mash it up a bit, and its ready to be used for baking, or frozen for later.
I've also tried cooking pumpkin down over the stove. This works, and I suppose it doesn't heat the house up as much. BUT, its incredibly hard to get the pumpkin skin off of little chunks of pumpkin. If you cook whole pumpkin halves in the oven, the skin should come off pretty easily and in whole chunks.