Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner, so you may soon be carving yet another jack-o-lantern or arranging small pumpkins as a centerpiece or house decoration to mark the season. Do you find yourself wondering whether there’s a way you can use or recycle the pumpkin parts that you usually discard? Curious about how to take advantage of the health benefits of pumpkins and their seeds, which are chock-full of vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, beta-carotene, and fiber? Read on for 10 ways to enjoy those beautiful and nutritious orange orbs!
- Use those slimy innards! Preparing a pumpkin for carving as a jack-o-lantern is a labor-intensive, messy job, so get the most out of your efforts by making pumpkin puree from the “guts.” First, separate the seeds from the pulp to make a tasty snack later. Then roast the pumpkin flesh in a baking pan at 400°F until tender. When done, chop the pumpkin mixture coarsely with a potato masher or puree it in a food processor or blender, adding a little water if it’s a bit dry. Now this superfood is ready to be added to your favorite chili or fall harvest soup, or to be incorporated into a casserole, macaroni and cheese, or homemade energy bar for extra nutritional value. You can even freeze it for later use.
- Roast pumpkin seeds for a nutritious and tasty snack or crunchy garnish. Once you’ve scooped out the seeds and separated them from the pumpkin flesh, rinse the seeds well and arrange them in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive or canola oil over them, mix to coat, then add your choice of seasonings. A little salt, soy sauce, or curry powder will make a savory snack or garnish for a salad, or try sprinkling them with cinnamon and brown sugar for a sweeter treat. Preheat the oven to 250°F and bake the seeds, turning periodically, until they are lightly browned and crisp. Avoid overcooking, as the seeds will lose their flavor and become tough.
- Use small pumpkins as serving bowls. Take your seasonal home decorating and entertaining to a new level and turn your smaller pumpkins into serving bowls for soups or dips. Simply chop off the tops of the pumpkins, scrape out the slimy innards and seeds, and place the pumpkins on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Brush the inside of the gourds with canola oil, sprinkle a little seasoning over the inside, if desired, and bake at 350°F for about 35 minutes. Once cooled a bit, they are ready to serve your favorite harvest dip or soup. After use, toss them in the compost pile – no bowls to wash!
- Turn your pumpkin into a planter. Add a little natural beauty to your yard by using your pumpkin or jack-o-lantern as a vessel to hold annual plants like fall mums. Fill the bottom third of the hollowed-out pumpkin with potting soil, place the plant in the center, and then pack additional soil around it. When the pumpkin starts to decompose, you can plant the whole thing in the ground. The pumpkin will continue to work its magic, providing natural fertilizer and moist compost for the plant.
- Create floating candles using small pumpkins. Add a harvest touch to your dinner table by using pumpkins as candleholders. For a floating candle arrangement, purchase half a dozen miniature pumpkins (three to four inches in diameter) and the same number of votive candles, preferably made of soy or beeswax. Place one of the candles on top of each pumpkin and trace a circle around it. Create a snug fitting for the candle by carefully inserting a knife into the pumpkin and cutting around the circle. Insert the candle in the hole, light it, and set it afloat in a glass bowl filled with water. Then sit back and listen to your guests’ oohs and ahhs! (Be sure not to leave the candles burning unattended, though.) You can also use small pumpkins as a candleholder. Simply carve a hole in the pumpkin big enough to accommodate the candle, insert the candle, and you’re ready to entertain!
- Make your skin glow with a do-it-yourself pumpkin facial mask or body scrub. Pumpkins contain vitamins, carotenoids, and antioxidants, and they also have excellent hydrating properties, all of which can help revitalize skin. Many recipes are available online for natural skin treatments that combine pumpkin puree with ingredients common to many kitchens, including honey, milk, cinnamon, egg yolk, and green tea.
- Feed your furry and feathered friends. Chop up your pumpkins in medium-size chunks and put them out in the yard (at a distance from your house, preferably) for the wildlife to consume. You can also attract birds to your yard by putting out dried, unseasoned pumpkin seeds in a “snack-o-lantern,” a birdfeeder made from your carved jack-o-lantern.
- Make your own air freshener. A jack-o-lantern or cleaned, hollowed-out pumpkin in which holes have been cut for ventilation can make a great non-toxic alternative to commercial air fresheners. Simply rub seasonal spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or allspice on the lid of the pumpkin, place a beeswax or soy candle in the bottom, light it, and then replace the top. (Remember never to leave the candle unattended.) Your house will smell like a holiday!
- Save the pumpkin seeds for planting. Grow your own pumpkin for harvesting next year. You’ll need at least 20 square feet per plant, and you should wait until all chance of frost has passed before planting three to five seeds in mounded soil at a depth of one inch. The warmer the soil, the faster the seeds will germinate, so your climate will dictate the optimal time for planting so the pumpkin is ready for harvest in October. In cooler regions, planting can start as early as late May, whereas in warmer climates, mid-July may be a better time. Once the seeds germinate, select two of the healthiest plants, thin out the rest, and then watch your little garden of orange grow!
- Host a fun pumpkin-smashing event and compost the remains. Pumpkins make great compost for your garden, especially when combined with leaves, so invite your neighbors to drop off their old pumpkins so they don’t end up in the local landfill. And since smashing them speeds the decomposing process, consider spreading a tarp in your backyard and inviting the neighborhood kids and their parents to come over for apple cider and a pumpkin stomp! If you don’t have a compost pile, contact the zoo or local farms and community gardens to see if they’re interested in taking your cast-off pumpkins for composting or to provide a nutritious treat for the animals.
Check out our Daily Dose post, Pumpkin: So Much More Than Pie, to learn more about the healthful benefits of pumpkins. If you want a true farm-to-table experience, consult the October section of our Farm-Fresh Guide and our Locavore post to find a pumpkin-selling farm near you.