Thursday, October 28, 2021

Making Much With Very Little: Pumpkin Spice Syrup (From Pumpkin Water)

 I have been wracking my brain of late and hitting the books, trying to work out what would be the best recipes to share during this mess of a world state we are all living in.  The Great Depression (in the US) recipes...well those don't REALLY work as well anymore as our living conditions HAVE changed since those days back in the 30s.  There are some that would be relevant, but I don't know about you guys, but hotdogs aren't really that cheap of a food stuff anymore (one of the big staples during the Great Depression).  World War II rationing recipes might come in handy, but really only if food starts being rationed.  And really, things that were actually readily available during the rationing days of the war, seem to be somewhat hard to come by right now, so that didn't really work.  

So, I wracked my brain on what resource I hadn't thought of.  

Then, talking to my mom one day it hit me like a brick.  My mom.  My mom was a resource I could tap.  

You see, my great-grandfather started a dairy back in the 1800's in the Appalachian foothills of Pennsylvania.  My family ran that dairy living in a one room shack with a dirt floor during the Great Depression (I really need to dig up some pictures if I can find them to show you the old homestead) and ran it straight through till my grandfather finally gave up when small dairy farms got harder and harder to run in Pennsylvania sometime in the early 80s.  Growing up on the farm my mom was pretty much raised by my great grandmother Lelia, (my mom was an only child and my grandmother had to help with farm work around the homestead) who taught her the ins and outs of living hand to mouth on a struggling dairy farm.  My mom grew up with electricity, but no running water.  I got to experience some of that when my parents got divorced and we moved back to the old homestead, hauling water for the first year before we could get a well put in and having to start a fire and shovel coal into the furnace every day in the cold months for years until we finally got gas plumbed in and got a gas furnace (oh the joy I had that day *laugh*).

Anyway, back to food stuff.  Out of curiosity, I started to pick my mom's brain about how she grew up and we got to talking about canning applesauce, picking rose hips and other wild foraging to help supplement the diet and such.  During the conversation I happened to look over at the two small pumpkins sitting on my counter that I had to process soon as they were starting to show signs of going over (basically the skin was starting to look mottled and I knew they were going to start to go bad soon) and I asked her what they used to do with pumpkins when she was growing up.  She talked of water bath canning pumpkin butter (no longer considered safe, at all, due to viscosity issues), canning pumpkin pickles, making pumpkin whiskey (which that was a new one on me) and making pumpkin molasses.  I had to stop her at that one and ask what the heck pumpkin molasses was as I had never heard of it before.  From what I gather the process involved boiling down the water left after boiling pumpkin for processing and you would boil it down like maple syrup for LONG periods of time until you ended up with a sweet syrup (my mom said it was like a mild sweet flavor that she could remember) that you could use on pancakes or as a sugar substitute when supplies got short.

I completely forgot about that conversation, honestly (it was a long week) until I went and boiled up my two small pumpkins to turn into pumpkin puree to freeze.  

I took a slotted spoon and removed the pumpkin from the water and then stared at the water for a minute and thought, "I don't want to throw the water out.  It can be used for something."  Honestly, I hate to throw food of any type away anymore, so I thought on what I could do with the water to use it up.  And then the conversation on pumpkin molasses hit me and I had a "eureeka" moment.

I mashed up my pumpkin in a bowl and dumped it into a wire mesh strainer above a 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup and then I just kind of stirred the pumpkin puree around (this is something I do anytime I mash pumpkin to get the extra water out and get the consistency to the point of canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie and such).  I then took the water that had drained, added it back with the rest of the pumpkin water and I put it on the boil until the water was boiled down to a little less than 1/2 of its original volume (this will take a while).  Once I was satisfied with the intensity of the flavor and the sweetness of the mix (very mildly sweet in my case as the white pumpkin wasn't really intensely flavored), I measured out 4 cups of pumpkin water and went to work.

Now, first a disclaimer.  I am not a pumpkin spice crazed addict like many this time of year.  Honestly, this is more me...

Normally this time of year I'm a crazed apple season person who jumps on the first really good sale of Honeycrisp apples she can and spends more than I should so that I can get a few apples to eat before my even MORE apple crazed daughter eats all of my beloved Honeycrisp *laugh*.  

But, in this case, I REALLY didn't want to throw pumpkin water down the drain when I could turn it into something useful.  So, pumpkin spice syrup it was.

Now, my plan for this is to pull it out of the freezer to use on pancakes and such...more a topping than in a drink type of application, but I am sure you could use this in your pumpkin spice lattes and such.  I went searching to see if I could find a recipe like this one, but didn't find any, so I came up with my own, but there were a bunch that called for pumpkin puree to be added if you want a more thick and viscous type of syrup.  I had plans for my pumpkin puree, though, so I just used the good old pumpkin water left overs.

Also, a quick note here.  Do NOT can this.  I know that it's the pumpkin water and not the pumpkin puree, so the viscosity issue is solved by doing it this way, BUT pumpkin is also a low acid food (pretty much zero acid actually) and so isn't safe to water bath can unless you up the acidity through the roof, go through lab tests and blah blah blah.  You can refrigerate this for two weeks, at least, before I'd worry about mold or crystallization of the sugars taking place, but you CAN put it in the freezer and it'll keep for at least a year.  The sugar content is high enough that the syrup will not freeze solid, but I called the cooperative extension service and ran it by them and they said it would be absolutely safe even if not frozen solid as the freezer would still keep the food below the danger zone for bacteria to be able to grow (I'm paranoid, what can I say).  

So, in short, store in the fridge or freezer.  No canning!!!  Okay, moving on!

So, after that intro that reminds me of food blogs that probably drive you nuts (sorry I don't have a "jump to recipe" function as I'm NOT one of those blogs), here is the recipe I came up with.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup (Made from Pumpkin Water)


    • 4 Cups Reduced Pumpkin Water (left over water from boiling pumpkin)
    • 1 Cup Brown Sugar, packed
    • 5 Cups white granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp to 1 TBS pumpkin pie spice of your preference (I went with 1 TBS because I wanted it to be heavily spiced when done, but go with your tastes)
    • 1 tsp salt (helps to kick up the pumpkin notes)



1.  Place all items into a large saucepan (it will bubble up when you stir it so make sure you use a big enough pot!) and whisk all ingredients together until well combined.

2.    Heat to a boil, stirring frequently and then reduce heat to low and boil gently until mixture thickens to a syrup consistency, 10 to 20 minutes (mine took somewhere around 15 to get it where I liked it, but just keep an eye on it).  During the reducing step switch to a wooden spoon as they are the best kitchen utensil for this job.  If you have a candy thermometer you are looking for a temperature of 223 F (106 C) to 230 F (110 C).  

If you don't have a candy thermometer, do like I did (because I couldn't find mine) and use the old fashioned way of testing sugar stages.  You are looking for the "thread" stage.

And most importantly be careful when making anything that involves hot sugar!  It is called culinary napalm for a reason.

3.  Remove syrup from heat and let cool a bit.  Transfer to straight sided canning jars (or other freezer safe containers) and store in the fridge or freezer.  In fridge will last at least two weeks and in the freezer will last at least a year.

Use to make pumpkin spice things, serve over pancakes or ice's the limit. 



  1. That's so good to find a use for something you would have thrown away.

  2. Wow, this sounds great! I LOVE pumpkin pie, my definite favorite! If i remember, i’ll give this a try sometime!

  3. I'm SO glad you're not one of THOSE blogs! hehehe
    And I am right there with you in the meadow like Julie Andrews!
    When your mom made it, did I understand correctly that she did not use spices? I have a hard time with a lot of spice, but the syrup itself might be nice with no spices?

    1. Okay, I had to wait to reply on this until I talked to mom again, but yes, they just boiled down the pumpkin water left over from boiling their pie pumpkins and then just boiled it outside for hours and hours until the mixture thickened up to a point they would call it a "syrup" and then they just canned it up and put it in the basement as another type of molasses to use. She said she remembers that it didn't taste like much other than sweet to her. She did recommend, since sugar is cheap (her words, not mine *laugh*), to use some of that added to the water to speed up the process to make your life easier as it took quite a while to boil it all down :).

  4. Hi Erika,

    What a fantastic use for the water from the pumpkin!!! I made it up today and absolutely love it.