For my first pumpkin carving experience, I remember heading to the grocery store on a chilly October day with my parents to pick out our pumpkins. We took our time, inspecting all of the top candidates until we found three perfect pumpkins. My dad’s advice was always to try to find one with a flat side so it would be easier to carve. We headed home with our carving tools and our pumpkins and covered our dining table with old newspapers in anticipation of the mess. My parents helped me carefully cut a hole around the stem of the pumpkin to remove the top. As a kid, there was nothing more exciting than ripping out the insides of my pumpkin, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. I don’t know what I was expecting the inside of a pumpkin to feel like, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to be met with cold, sticky pumpkin slime that was nearly impossible to pull out. After grabbing a few meager handfuls of pumpkin guts, I quickly lost interest and let my parents do the rest of the dirty work. I would come back and carve my pumpkin when it was ready.
It takes a lot of time and effort to hollow out a pumpkin for carving. However it’s nowhere near the amount of time, effort, and resources required to grow and distribute an annual crop of pumpkins. Every year, farmers across the United States work tirelessly to produce the over two billion pumpkins that will serve as the centerpieces of many American’s Halloween celebrations. The scary truth is that, out of those two billion pumpkins produced annually, only one in five will be consumed as food. That leaves four out of every five pumpkins doomed to live out the rest of their days in a landfill, contributing to the over forty million tons of food waste produced by the United States each year. By being thoughtful about how we use and dispose of our pumpkins, we can easily prevent the majority of those pumpkins from ever entering the landfill in the first place.
Pumpkins are a big squash, which means that all parts of the plant are edible, including those slimy, stringy pumpkin guts you probably toss out every year. But the innards of your pumpkin are much more than scraps and can be easily transformed into a delicious, homemade pumpkin puree that can be used in a variety of both sweet and savory recipes.
To make your pumpkin puree, separate the seeds from the rest of the stringy pumpkin pieces, and steam the pumpkin until cooked and soft. Add the steamed pumpkin guts to a food processor or blender with a generous splash of lemon juice and blend until smooth. That’s all it takes! You can either use your pumpkin puree immediately, or store in the freezer for a few months (the lemon juice helps prevent freezer burn).
The seeds of the pumpkin are also edible, and can be easily roasted for a nutritious snack. Simply toss the seeds in your favorite oil and seasonings, spread evenly on a baking sheet, and bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooled, place seeds in a sealed container to store. Pumpkin seeds should last up to a week at room temperature or about a month in the freezer.
Check out these pumpkin seed flavor combinations from our friends at Eat Smart Idaho:
- Cinnamon Toast: 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp olive oil.
- Chili: 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tbsp tamari sauce, 2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Spicy: ½ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp red pepper flakes, 2 tbsp olive oil.
- Ginger Zest: 2 tbsp ground ginger, 2 tbsp sugar, ½ tsp orange zest, 2 tbsp olive oil.
- Parmesan: ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil.
Pumpkin waste doesn’t just stop once you’ve carved your Jack-O-Lantern; we still have to make sure we are disposing of our pumpkins properly. When pumpkins and other food waste breaks down in a landfill, it produces methane gas. Methane is the second most abundant human-influenced greenhouse gas, and accounts for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. By composting our pumpkins instead, we can eliminate our methane contributions this Halloween. To compost your pumpkin at home, you just need a small section of your yard and something to smash your pumpkin with. Once your pumpkin is broken up, cover it with some leaves and leave it to decompose. You may even end up with a small volunteer pumpkin patch next fall! Pumpkins can also be left out as food for livestock or wildlife. If you can’t compost at home, toss your pumpkin in your green waste bin if you have one, or take it to a nearby waste transfer station for a small fee.
By adopting any of these practices when carving your pumpkins this year, you can have a positive impact on our environment. Plus, you can make some delicious treats along the way!
Author: Emily Menshew, Nutrition Education Associate