First scenario: You’re psyched to make Pumpkin Cake Bars, an easy one-bowl sheet cake topped with yummy cream cheese frosting. And you make them and yeah, they’re totally delicious, and you’re cleaning up, and … what do you do with that leftover half-can of pumpkin?

Second scenario: You’ve stepped up and baked a 100%-from-scratch Pumpkin Pie using your own homemade pumpkin purée made from fresh sugar pumpkins. And yes, it’s really good! But now you have all this pumpkin purée sitting in a bowl in the fridge … what to do?

"Busy you" says move on, but "thrifty you" can't bear to throw away that bit of pumpkin left in the can. Here's how to deal.

Let’s start with the canned pumpkin. Most recipes call for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin: think Libby’s, One Pie, or your own favorite brand, readily available year-round at the supermarket.

Cans of pumpkin on a supermarket shelf

No problem there. You open the can, use the pumpkin, rinse the can, and recycle; no leftovers.

Many other recipes call for 1 cup (half a can) of pumpkin. That makes things simple: Double your recipe to use the whole can, and then 1) enjoy it all, 2) give half away, or 3) freeze for later.

Slices of pumpkin bread on a paper plate, ready to give away
Easy Pumpkin Bread

My favorite option is #2. Between friends and family, the local library, the vet’s office, the town senior center, the folks at the farm stand, my favorite bookshop, and the guys who repair my car, there’s always, always someone to share with, someone who’ll swoon over whatever I’ve made. If you can’t think of a single person in your community who’d appreciate a freshly baked treat from your kitchen — then think a bit more.

Another option: If you’ve used 1 cup (half a can) of pumpkin, pair the recipe you’ve chosen with another using 1 cup of pumpkin. I’ve created an easy mix-and-match list of complementary recipes for you at the end of this article.

Glass measuring cup containing 1 3/4 cups pumpkin.

But wait a minute: Pumpkin weighs 8 ounces per cup, so a 15-ounce can of pumpkin really only gives you 1 7/8 cups; you can’t make two recipes calling for a cup of pumpkin each, can you?

Sure you can. Just fudge it: Use a scant 1 cup pumpkin (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon) in each recipe. I promise that missing tablespoon of pumpkin won’t make or break your recipe.

Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits on a baking sheet
Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits

If you’re not convinced, supplement with a tablespoon of applesauce in that Easy Whole Grain Pumpkin-Banana Bread, or splash in couple of teaspoons of milk or water to account for the missing liquid in the Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits. Relax; it’s all good.

Too much to use right now? Wrap and freeze

Now what about recipes using less than a cup of pumpkin, like Pumpkin Biscotti (1/2 cup), Harvest Pumpkin Scones (2/3 cup), or Golden Pumpkin Dinner Rolls (3/4 cup)? You’ll have more than a cup of pumpkin left in the can. In this case, it’s worthwhile to freeze it.

Pumpkin purée spooned into the wells of a muffin pan prior to freezing

Spritz two or three muffin cups lightly with cooking spray, and spoon or scoop a heaping mound of pumpkin (1/2 cup, 4 ounces, 113g) into the cups. Place the pan into the freezer. When the pumpkin portions are frozen through, tip them out of the pan (you may need to set the pan in an inch of hot water to loosen their bottoms), and place in a zip-top plastic bag for freezer storage.

Libby cautiously suggests, right on their cans, using frozen pumpkin within three months. But I’ve kept pumpkin frozen for up to a year with no apparent ill effect. One caveat: stash it in the back of the freezer where it’s not exposed to constant drafts of warm air from the door.

Not enough left to freeze?

Your recipe calls for almost all of a can of pumpkin (that’s you, Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts), but you still have 1/4 cup or a couple of tablespoons left over. What then?

Pumpkin purée swirled into a bowl of Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Leftover pumpkin, sealed securely, will last several days in the fridge. But it probably won’t be around that long. Stir it into your breakfast oatmeal. Sweeten gently and swirl into Greek yogurt. Making a smoothie? Plop it into the blender canister along with the banana and blueberries. Or if you have dogs, spoon it onto their food; it’s a healthy supplement, full of fiber and beta carotene.

Homemade pumpkin purée

Let’s get back to that bowl of homemade pumpkin purée in the fridge. If you’re not ready to bake something else right away, it’s best to freeze your homemade purée.

Homemade pumpkin purée in a glass bowl

Think about the pumpkin recipes you bake most often. Do they call for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin? Then weigh out that amount and freeze in 1-pint freezer containers, 1-quart zip-top plastic bags, plastic wrap, or your other favorite freezer-safe storage material.

Plastic bags are my favorite here; with the zip corner left barely open, press gently to flatten, then freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, save freezer space by stacking the bags atop one another.

Hint: If you don’t have a scale for weighing and you’ve planned ahead, you can use an empty, clean pumpkin can to measure out the correct amount; no need to dirty a measuring cup.   

Think about freezing purée in 1/2-cup increments as well, for those recipes calling for less than a can.

Homemade pumpkin purée spooned int silicone ice cube trays

My absolute favorite way to freeze 1/2-cup portions of anything semi- or fully liquid (think homemade marinara, for instance) is in extra-large silicone ice cube trays, ones that make 2" cubes.

For pumpkin, I thoroughly pack each well, then run a bowl scraper across the top of the tray to remove any excess. The result? Perfect 1/2 cup (4 ounce, 113g) cubes of pumpkin, ready to freeze.

Homemade pumpkin purée frozen in cubes, placed in a labeled freezer bag

However you freeze, remember to label your pumpkin. Right now you’re sure you’ll remember what those bags of orange stuff are; six months from now, you won’t. Label, date, and write the amount on each bag — or on the larger outer bag in which you’ll store individual portions.

When you’re getting ready to make your selected recipe (I highly recommend Pumpkin Yeast Bread), take the purée you need from your frozen stash.

Frozen cubes of pumpkin purée in a bowl waiting to thaw

Unwrap, place in a bowl, cover, and thaw overnight in the fridge. Just before using, strain out any standing liquid. There’s no need to wring liquid from the pumpkin as you would from, say, frozen spinach, but go ahead and drain the puddles. Throw the liquid into your smoothie or drizzle it into the dog dish.

And with that, I leave you to your scrumptious pumpkin baking. With all of the options for leftover pumpkin you now have at your fingertips, you’ll never again find yourself reluctantly throwing away a moldering half-can of purée — promise!

Pumpkin purée being spooned out of half-empty pumpkin can

As I noted at the beginning of this article, pumpkin recipes using a can of purée are pretty much a dime a dozen. But those using 1 cup are a bit harder to find. The following recipes each use 1 cup of pumpkin purée, a.k.a. half of a 15-ounce can of pumpkin. Mix and match any two to use up that whole can. Problem solved — especially if you have lots of eager pumpkin eaters around!

Bars: Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin Pie BarsGluten-Free Pumpkin Cake Bars.

A square of pumpkin streusel coffeecake on a plate
Pumpkin Streusel Coffeecake

Cake & dessert: Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin Mini Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing, Pumpkin Spice Cake, Pumpkin Streusel Coffeecake, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, Pumpkin Ice Cream.

Cream cheese-filled pumpkin muffins on two plates, one cut open
Inside-Out Pumpkin Muffins

Muffins and quick breads: Inside-Out Pumpkin Muffins, Thanksgiving Muffins, Easy Whole Grain Pumpkin-Banana Bread, Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits, Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Bread.

Savory: Pumpkin Parmesan Rugelach, Pumpkin Ravioli.

Yeast rolls: Cinnamon-Swirl Pumpkin Rolls, Maple Pumpkin Rolls.

Cinnamon swirl pumpkin rolls iced with confectioners' sugar icing, ready to serve
Cinnamon-Swirl Pumpkin Rolls

If you're in an autumnal baking mood, check out additional seasonal recipes in our Harvest Favorites collection. 

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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