We all know pumpkins are popular around Halloween and Thanksgiving, but did you know that the majority of the 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins produced are only used for decoration, and then tossed out once the season is over? Not only is that a waste of valuable resources, these rotting carcasses emit greenhouse gases if not properly composted, contributing to our ongoing climate crisis. Instead of throwing out your post-season pumpkin this year, here are some ways to use every part of this famous fruit.
Roast the Seeds
This is a fairly common and popular practice when carving pumpkins for Halloween. You have to scoop out the seeds and guts anyway, so you might as well use these tasty parts. Simply wash and dry them, then roast in an oven or a pan with your favorite seasonings. Eat them as is, or add them to salads and a variety of other recipes. Like other nuts, pumpkin seeds are high in protein, unsaturated fats, omega-3’s, magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, and copper.
The oo-ey gooey parts of the pumpkin flesh are normally the first things you toss out—but stop right there! That gunk can actually be made into a healthy, rich vegetable stock, or used for breads and pies. Instead of buying canned pumpkin, put all of the guts into a food processor (don't include the rind).
The resulting mush can be used for any pumpkin-flavored baking. For the stock, put all of the gooey guts (seeds, too if you like) into a big pot of water, adding whatever other veggie cut-offs you'd like into the mix, and boil for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and you’ve got pumpkin soup stock!
Scoop the Flesh
This part of the pumpkin is probably the most-used in actual food recipes. Like squash, cooked pumpkin flesh can be cut into chunks, pureed into soups, made into a thick mash like you do with potatoes, or whipped into everyone’s favorite: pumpkin pie!
The nice part is you don’t have to cut it away from the tough skin, just cut it into large slices like you would with cantaloupe or watermelon, season as you like, and put in the oven. You can even leave them in halves and let the juices simmer inside the bowl. Once roasted, the insides can be easily cut, scooped away, or served on the skin.
Pumpkin Skin Chips
The skin of all pumpkins is edible, but the variety normally grown in the U.S. has a tough, thick skin that is difficult to cook. So, why not make pumpkin chips? Use a peeler to cut the skin into long, thin slices.
Sprinkle with some salt and let them set for ten minutes before cooking so they “sweat” just a little. Add your choice of cooking oil and seasonings and bake in the oven, or use a dehydrator for delicious crispy pumpkin chips.
Eat the Flowers
If you grow your own pumpkins, you know the sprawling vines of these plants produce large, yellow blossoms. Did you know that you can pluck the flowers off and eat them just like that? They can also be used in salads or sandwiches, marinated, battered and fried, or used to decorate plates.
Tip: Only eat the male flowers, as the females are the ones that grow into pumpkins. Either way, these yellow buds are loaded with many nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.
Make a Pumpkin Bowl
Use the hollowed-out pumpkin as a cool, biodegradable serving bowl or container. For best results, get the majority of the flesh scooped or cut out so that just the thick, harder skin is left. Cut the top off and use the stem as a handle to cover a cold or hot dish until it’s ready to be served. Extra points if you serve your pumpkin risotto inside, or pumpkin-spiced ice cream!
Save the Stem
There aren’t any ways to actually eat the stem of a pumpkin, but here’s one cool trick: after Halloween, Christmas is right around the corner, and in some places that means snowfall, too. Cut out and save the pumpkin stem to use as the perfect nose for your snowman. You’ll probably want to keep it in the freezer until then!
Start Seeds and Compost With the Rest
For anything else left over from your Halloween carving/pie-making/soup-pureeing adventures, a compost pile is the best destination. The pumpkin parts will naturally biodegrade fairly quickly, and you can even bury the bulk of them right in your garden beds. Before you compost, though, try using it as a planter/seed-starter for fall annuals like chrysanthemums, kale, asters, and pansies that are all hardy throughout cooler weather.
Remember that once pumpkins are carved, the skin and flesh won’t be edible for long. Un-carved ones that are used as decoration may last a few weeks or even months if they are kept in a cool, dry spot. A good rule of thumb is that once they're squishy, they aren’t good for much else other than the compost bin.
If you don’t have a compost system, check your municipality’s rules on disposing pumpkins—most will take them in yard waste or green bin containers on garbage day. Hopefully with these tips on how to use every part of the pumpkin, there won’t be a need.