As we head into October, pumpkins are very much in season and many look forward to carving them out and decorating them as we approach Halloween.
Pumpkins are colourful vegetables in the squash family and they come in all shapes and sizes. They’re versatile and will last for months in a cool, dry environment. Sadly, it’s been estimated that 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin are wasted in the UK every year, the equivalent of 360 million portions of pumpkin pie! In the US, a staggering 900,000 tonnes are trashed rather than eaten or composted.
If you add those figures to households in Ireland and the rest of the world that decorate their Halloween homes and gardens, that’s a colossal amount of food waste, never mind the resources that go into growing pumpkins. Can we do something about it?
Pumpkins are inexpensive and make tasty, sweet or savoury dishes yet we undervalue them. One average size pumpkin can provide a snack, soup and dessert and they are far from bland once they’ve been roasted in the oven with oil and seasoning.
If you’re concerned about pumpkin waste and would like to do more with them, here’s five suggestions, including saving seeds and several links to recipes. At the end of the article there’s a short video clip showing what not to do with a pumpkin, especially if you can’t seek the help of some kind friends or family…
No. 1 – How to Save a Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin
Once the pumpkin is carved, there’s not much we can do but before we make it into a creepy devil or spooky cat, we can save all the flesh we scoop out and cook it.
- Remove the ‘lid’ at the stalk end by cutting a disk shape around the top with a sharp knife. Remove as much of the flesh as you can from the inside, leaving enough so you’re able to carve it without damage. Separate the seeds and leave to one side.
- If possible, chop the flesh into large bite sized chunks and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, if not, spread the pumpkin out on a baking tray, toss in olive oil and bake in a hot oven until roasted. Pumpkins are much easier to deal with if not trying to carve them into Halloween faces and roasted pumpkin chunks can also be served hot as a side vegetable.
- Remove the cooked flesh from the oven and allow to cool. It can now be used in soups, puree and even a tasty pie. If you don’t have time to bake or make right now, bag up the roasted flesh when it’s cool and freeze.
No. 2 – How to Cook with Pumpkin
I was in my thirties before I tried making any kind of soup and it’s regularly on our lunch menu now I’ve discovered how easy soup is to make. When you grow your own vegetables, soup is a free meal and becomes a great way of feeding a crowd. Making soup is also a terrific way of using up ‘gluts’ of veg and it can be frozen too.
Apart from the ingredients, a source of heat and a blender are the main pieces of kitchen gadgetry needed. Once you have those, you’ll be flying. Basically just chop up some vegetables, add them to about a litre and a half of hot water, add a stock cube, some seasoning, heat until the veg have softened, then blitz in the blender. Job done.
We used a soup recipe from Jamie Oliver at Gleann na Bearu community garden. It has a heart warming gingery tang and it just feels like it must be doing some good. We also made this no-bake vegan Pumpkin Pie I’d urge you to try for special occasions, assuming you don’t have a nut allergy.
No. 3 – How to Save Pumpkin Seeds
If you’ve grown the pumpkin in your garden and you know the variety, you can save the seeds for replanting in the springtime as long as they weren’t from an F1 cultivar (they’re likely to revert back to their parentage if they were F1’s). Likewise, if you bought your pumpkin from a farmers market, ask the stall holder what variety they’re selling and you might be able to save those seeds. Supermarket pumpkin seeds may or may not germinate, but could be fun to try.
Pick out as many of the seeds as you can before sifting through the rest under a tap of running water. (Tip: do this holding the colander over a bowl and use the drained water for the plants or flush the toilet with it.)
Leave to dry fully on parchment paper on a windowsill then pop into brown envelopes, label and store in an airtight tin until you’re ready to sow them. Always sow more than you need for when some aren’t viable. To test the viability of seeds or learn how long you can expect them to last, take a look at this archived post.
No. 4 – How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds
If you purchased your pumpkin from a supermarket, it’s unlikely you’ll know its provenance so why not try cooking the seeds instead of saving them. It’s very easy and they’re tasty too.
Cold water (about half a litre)
2 tbls salt (or less if you don’t want the seeds overly salty)
1 tblsp olive oil
Heat oven to 20oºC/Gas 6/400ºF
Clean the seeds as above then add them to a saucepan with the salt and water, bring to the boil then simmer for ten minutes or so to allow the seeds to soften.
Take off the heat, drain, pat the seeds dry with a clean tea towel then toss in the olive oil before placing on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast in the oven for around ten to twenty minutes, until the seeds brown and are crispy.
No. 5 – How to Decorate a Pumpkin without Cutting it Up
In the U.S. pumpkin decorating is massive, check out Pinterest for thousands of ideas.
A couple of years ago I entered a bloggers pumpkin decorating competition with a natural, autumnal themed entry. My ‘Green Man’ eventually shared the table with all the chutney a group of community gardeners made to sell at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival.
I made the creation pictured by collecting seasonal leaves, flowers and cones and sticking them to the pumpkin skin using a glue gun. Drawing or dressmaking pins would work well too if you’re try to avoid the chemical addition.
Don’t Try This At Home
I hope you’ve enjoyed those few ideas for using your pumpkin. Next year as Halloween approaches, if you don’t already do so please consider cooking your pumpkin instead of throwing away all the seeds and flesh. Whatever you do, don’t try this at home. Especially if you’re home alone…