Canning 101: Why Pumpkin Butter Can’t Be Canned

October 20, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

pumpkins

This time of year, a canner’s fancy turns to pumpkins. Tis the season for all things round, orange and squashy, after all. However, as you start searching for recipes for home canned pumpkin butter from reputable sources, you’re going to find yourself disappointed. You see, both the USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation are going to tell you the same thing. Don’t do it.

I’m sure there are more than a few of you out there saying to yourself, “but I’ve been making and water bath canning pumpkin butter for years!” And it’s true, many years ago, there were USDA-approved recipes for pumpkin butter. Unfortunately, the rules of canning are not a static canon and so, in 1989 the USDA changed their recommendations and the NCHFP followed suit. No home canning for pumpkin butter, not even in a pressure canner.

The reasons why homemade pumpkin butter isn’t recommended are several. When cooked down into a butter, pumpkin flesh becomes quite dense, making it difficult for the heat produced in a canner to penetrate fully through the contents of the jar. This means that even in a pressure canner, the interior of the jar may not reach the 240 degrees needed to kill those pesky botulism spores.

Additionally, pumpkin and all other winter squash are a low-acid vegetables, meaning that without careful treatment, they could potentially be a friendly environment in which botulism spores might grow into their toxic adult state. In tests, it’s been found that the pH of pumpkin has a fairly wide range, meaning that it’s not possible to offer a basic acidification ratio as there is for other borderline and low acid foods.

The good news is that pumpkin butter can be frozen and also keeps quite well in the fridge, so it doesn’t have to be entirely off the menu. I’ve also been pondering whether one could make a an apple-pumpkin butter that would be high enough in acid to be safe for canning, but would contain enough pumpkin to be sufficiently autumnal. I may do a bit of playing around, to see if I can get somewhere close to the flavor I’d like to eat.

If you’re curious to read more about the safety hazards of canning pumpkin butter and other squash purees, click here to download the PDF that was the primary source for this post.

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268 responses to “Canning 101: Why Pumpkin Butter Can’t Be Canned”

  1. Thank you, this was very informative. I do have one question for you. I wanted to make pumpkin butter for my daughter who is away in college. I am in California and she is in Massachusetts and Mail takes approximately 2-3 days if I do express. i do not want to chance getting her sick but is there any way you know of to help it make the trip un-refrigerated? I was going to can it until I did some reading and very glad I did. Any suggestions you have would be helpful since I am very new to this.

    • There is no way to safely mail pumpkin butter to your daughter. Make her a different preserve, or buy a commercially preserved jar of pumpkin butter.

      • I was afraid you would say that! Thank you very much I just made some apple butter and she is super excited. Thanks again

      • If it were to be frozen in the ball freezer jars and sealed in a plastic zipper bag and shipped in a cooler with dry ice and shipped overnight… It is possible.

  2. Wow. I didnt know this was an issue. I bought some from a cottage business and was suprised how different it looked and tasted when i got my jar home. It was nothing like her samples. Thank you for the article.

    • With pumpkin butter, it’s not just about pH. It’s also about density. The density of the product is typically such that the heat of the canner cannot penetrate. So even if you get the pH low enough (it would need to be below 4.6), it is still not recommended that you can pumpkin butter.

  3. Hello! I’m making a batch of apple-pumpkin butter using solid-pack pumpkin from a can, NOT fresh pumpkin. Do you think it would be safe to can it in a pressure canner? Curious about whether or not it makes a difference if the pumpkin is fresh (and dangerous to can) or was in a commercial canned state before I used it in my recipe.

    • Unfortunately, the density of the pumpkin is the reason why it’s not safe for pressure canning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using commercial or fresh pumpkin. It’s still not safe.

  4. Glad I found this! THANK YOU!

    I purchased Pumpkin Butter from a farmers’ market a couple of months ago. I stored it on a shelf and just recently got it out. Only NOW did I notice the small type on the bottom of the label that read, “refrigerate.” I wasn’t sure if it meant refrigerate after opening or refrigerate always. I’ve purchased commercial Pumpkin Butter before that was shelf stable, so I was puzzled.

    The lid on this unrefrigerated Pumpkin Butter looks adequately sealed — it doesn’t bulge and it hasn’t popped. BUT I noticed a few small bubbles in the pumpkin butter inside the jar. Those had me worried.

    I’m afraid it could be contaminated with botulism. Is there any way to know?

    Also, should I contact the farmer about it?

    Good to know that pumpkin butter can’t safely be home-canned! Thank you!

    • There is no test to determine whether something has botulism or not. That’s why it’s so dangerous.

      I don’t know whether the refrigerate label meant refrigerate all long, or after it was opened. You might reach out to the farmer to be sure.

  5. Already made and canned my pumpkin butter before reading all about the hazards. Does anyone know if it’s safe to freeze and use? I canned last night and left it on the counter over night. I now put it in the freezer but would rather be safe than sorry! Thanks!

  6. I just read that it is not safe to can pumpkin or any type squash because of low acidity, and not safe any way you can do it. Well I have bought squash relish at festivals that was home canned. So, is it not safe? After reading the arrival I tend to think not, but you are the one who knows more about that than I do. Thanks because I have had food poisoning, although I got mine from a restaurant, I thought I would die it can be very painful, and make you very sick. Thank You for awareness.

  7. Thank you for your wonderful and diligent effort to educate us home canners. I certainly will NOT can pumpkin butter. I was going to make some today. I realize that the best way is to make what we’ll eat over the short term to be kept in the fridge and then freeze the pumpkin puree that I make. I can always use the puree to make pies or butter depending on what the family wants at the time. For interest I use the Halloween pumpkin varieties to make pumpkin puree. It has a lot of water in it, so after baking the fresh pumpkin in the oven, I let it sit and scoop the water off and then freeze in baggies. I make pies for haying crews, and the best pies (the guys tell me) are the pumpkin made with 150 proof rum or Captain Morgan’s Spiced rum (2 T./pie). I also use the spiced rum to lightly wash over banana bread after it comes out of the oven. Makes the crust delightfully moist and everyone loves it. I use very good bourbon in anything chocolate, apricot brandy in peach pies, Cointreau in apple/cranberry pies, and make a fantastic sweet hard cider apple pie. Port in pumpkin butter is fantastic and also in elderberry jelly. We don’t drink alcohol in our family but I definitely cook with liquor and use the best brands. Oh, yes, the maple whiskey is also great for a wash on banana/cranberry bread. The liquor isn’t obvious in anything I bake, but it brings our the flavors wonderfully. Happy pumpkin cooking to everyone this Halloween!

  8. Just wondereing how long could I keep the canned pumpkin butter in the refrigerator after I have made it from scratch using a whole baking pumpkin and canned with a hot bath to seal the lid?

    • You really don’t want to seal pumpkin butter in a boiling water bath canner. Even if you’re keeping it in the fridge, you’re creating favorable conditions for botulism.

  9. The recipe i am using for my pumpkin butter has apple juice in it. Would that make it safe to can in a pressure cooker ?

  10. Wow. Glad I found this. I bought a small jar of pumpkin butter 3 months ago at a small farm stand craft shop made by a local person while on vacation. I forgot to try it.. so I was looking to see if it was still ediable… and now I find out it NEVER was! Now I dont know if I trust any home canned foods. I have no idea how well anyone has pre pared the food. If I dont know who did it.

  11. Ive canned pumpkin butter in the past, using pressure cooker. When cooking the pumpkin down I added apple cider to add acid to it. It canned just fine.

  12. Marisa you said you were going to try apple and pumpkin butter did it work? What if you added lemon juice or apple cider vinegar? I really want to try and can some. How can we tell if the food is contaminated is there a test kit?

  13. If the density is the problem, why can’t you puree everything, add a ton of water to the recipe, cook it up to the required temperature in a pressure cooker, simmer or boil off the excess water, and then can what’s left when it returns to the density you want? I’m not an experienced canner, I’m just theorizing. Would this result in something safer even if it’s a little unorthodox? Or would it just ruin the recipe?

    • It’s the density once in the jar that’s the issue. So even though you cooked it to the proper temperature, the goal is to absolutely ensure that no botulism spores exist inside the jar at the time of canning. So you still need the heat of the pressure canner to be able to penetrate to the center of the jar, which brings us back to the density issue.

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