Long Reads

Paul Virant's Pumpkin Butter

November  5, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Turn any winter squash into this holiday season's go-to gift, breakfast, and dessert -- an entertaining triple threat.

If you're unabashed about loving pumpkin spice lattes and all their weird progeny, you will really like this recipe. It will be everything you love about the season, but twisted and intensified into a more ethereal version of the pumpkin spice you know. It will make the lattes pale, and the spinoffs irrelevant.

But if you usually keep your distance from pumpkin spice everything, as I do -- claiming to not get it, while still helping yourself to wide-cut slices of pumpkin cake and pie -- this recipe will make a liar of you.

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It comes from chef Paul Virant's The Preservation Kitchen, a book full of smart ways to preserve foods in season (and then cook with the preserves). As Food52er AntoniaJames told me when she sent over the recipe, "This pumpkin butter is kind of like the best-tasting, most intense, perfectly flavored pumpkin pie."

Kindly, Virant doesn't even pretend to make you find the right kind of sugar or cheese pumpkin. You can use any of the cute squashes you bought at the farmers market and aren't sure what to do with, even the wonky-shaped ones you don't know how to peel. Here I used a hodgepodge of kabocha, butternut, acorn, and delicata.


Virant's technique for developing intensity quickly in any kind of squash is a lot like Judy Rodgers' genius roasted applesauce. While most fruit butters are cooked on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, "for the most concentrated flavor," Virant writes, "I roast the pumpkin in two stages:" First, it's simply halved and seeded, to cook the squash and make it scoopable; then the scooped pulp roasts a second time in an open roasting pan along with the spice half of the equation.

More: Get our tips for roasting the seeds -- no recipe required.

Roasting and stirring here and there exposes more of the surface to heat and helps it thicken and caramelize, rather than steam. And, while most pumpkin butters are butter in name only, this one roasts with bits of real, unsalted butter stirred in, which naturally makes it fuller and richer in flavor, but also helps the caramelizing process along.

The mix is also generously sweetened with brown sugar, balanced with salt and only enough spices to nudge the earthy flavors of the squash into the foreground, without inadvertently shoving them off the stage.

As you might expect, this packs well and makes a handsome gift at any scale you want to make it. It also keeps in the fridge for a few weeks and freezes well, so you can make it now to have on hand till the last guest leaves in January, with a few spoonfuls left for you.

From here, Virant adds it to ice cream and pumpkin bars. So far, our Assistant Editor Sarah Jampel has put it on homemade focaccia and in plain yogurt. Associate Editor Marian Bull is talking about stirring it into oatmeal and slipping it into pumpkin breakfast parfaits like fiveandspice would. I've been doing my part too, and smearing the butter on a lot of toast and cake.

Paul Virant's Pumpkin Butter

Adapted slightly from The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012)

Makes about 6 cups

Roasted Pumpkin or Winter Squash:

5 pounds (2 to 3) pumpkin or winter squash, halved and seeded
Vegetable oil for coating

Pumpkin Butter:

6 cups (3 pounds) roasted pumpkin or winter squash pulp
2 cups (12 ounces) lightly packed brown sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon ginger, ground
1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to AntoniaJames for this one!

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) You can now pre-order it on Provisions to get a signed copy in April, plus 3 pretty recipe cards to wrap up in time for the holidays. Find out more about the book here!

Photos by James Ransom


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Patricia W. October 5, 2015
I was appalled at the ratio (1/3) of sugar to squash in this recipe. Cutting it in half is still to much sugar for me.
Megan December 3, 2014
I used about half the sugar and next time would use even a little less. That said, the end result is divine on toast, as a dip for apple slices, by the spoonful and very easy to make. I'm planning to pressure can a bunch for Christmas gifts this year.
Hiromi M. November 18, 2014
2 cups of packed brown sugar? That's a lot. Pumpkins are sweet as is when roasted for a long time. Would 1 cup be enough if I use kabocha and butternut squash only???
Molly December 3, 2014
I used half the amount of sugar called for (with butternut and acorn squash) and think it's still too sweet.
Mel November 11, 2014
I'm all for roasting but can I use canned pumpkin? If so, are all other measurements the same? Thanks
Loretta P. November 11, 2014
The recipe calls for 4 TB butter or a stick. A stick of butter is normally 8 TB. Could someone clarify this discrepancy? Thanks.
Brad D. October 7, 2015
It says 4 ounces, not tablespoons, so I'm betting it's the full stick.
MaryJo H. November 7, 2014
I made this last night, and it is fantastic! I had it on toast last night with a glass of almond milk for dinner, and again on toast for breakfast with my latte. So yummy!
Jennifer B. November 6, 2014
I'm in the middle of making this right now with my three-year-old. When we were stirring the roasted pumpkin with the spices, he told me in no uncertain terms, "Mama. You have to put your nose way down in the bowl. It. Smells. Delicious." Cannot wait to eat it on everything!
Kara November 5, 2014
This looks amazing!!! I have made lots of fruit butters before, but not pumpkin butter. I usually can the fruit butters using the water bath method. Can you do that with this recipe?
Maura November 5, 2014
Hey Kara, sadly for everyone the USDA classifies pumpkin butters as unsafe for home canning. (Low acidity and super dense). I suppose we'll all just have to binge eat pumpkin butter.
Kara November 5, 2014
Hi Maura, thanks for letting me know! That is too bad, but binge eating and freezing pumpkin butter doesn't sound too difficult :)
Jane Y. November 5, 2014
Can I use the kind of pumpkins that my kids picked at the patch?
stephsmith November 7, 2014
I would like to know this as well!
Sharon S. November 5, 2014
would this recipe freeze well?
Ashley November 5, 2014
Wow these photos are beyond gorgeous -- they make me even more excited to try the recipe.
drbabs November 5, 2014
Thank you for finding this one.
Sarah J. November 5, 2014
"It will make the lattes pale, and the spinoffs irrelevant." YES! Goodbye, lame excuses for pumpkin flavor. Hello, best and purest fall sensation imaginable. I'd love to eat this swirled into ice cream but mostly, I like to eat a spoonful every time I pass by my fridge (and since I live in a small apartment, this happens every 5 minutes).
mrslarkin November 5, 2014
Well, I think we all know what I'd put this on.
Mary C. November 5, 2014
I'm going to have to try this with the many varieties of squash! This looks great. I made some "butter" with butternut squash, sans sugar-avec maple syrup, just last week and it turned out great. If you're a clean eater, you can fine the recipe in my Food52 archives or at this link: http://sensetaste.com/butternut-butters/
fiveandspice November 5, 2014
Yusssssss. Also, I love you for spreading it on pound cake.