Those cheery bright pumpkins that have been adorning your front yard for Halloween can be turned into some creative, decorative items such as serving bowls or become organic matter for your compost bin. You can also make hundreds of pumpkin recipes including pumpkin bread and muffins, pumpkin soup and the always favorite pumpkin pie.

“There are many options,” says Sarah Rautio, consumer horticulture educator for Michigan State University Extension in Tawas City. “But don’t forget you can save uncut pumpkins for after Halloween since they are still festive decorations at Thanksgiving.”

First of all, let’s get to know your Halloween pumpkin. Fresh pumpkins are 90% water, and they are a fruit, according to the University of Illinois Extension. And 80 percent of the pumpkin supply in the U.S. is available in October. Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey and baked over hot ashes. This is your original pumpkin pie.

Once the trick-or-treaters are gone, here are things you can do with those leftover pumpkins – the ones that have already been carved for jack-o’-lanterns and the ones not carved yet:

1. Craft a pretty planter

Rautio has a friend who cleans out the old pumpkins and makes flower arrangements in them. “It is quite beautiful. Only cut the top of the pumpkin off, make the hole wider than you would for a jack-o’-lantern and clean out the inside,” she says. Plop in a potted flower like a small mum, or add a cup of water or more and arrange flowers to create your own centerpiece. You can even put some of those flickering battery-operated lights on branches stuck in the old pumpkins to add a great ambience for your porch or tabletop.

2. Create a luxurious face mask

You’ll need one cup of pumpkin flesh, two tablespoons of brown sugar, one tablespoon of honey and a half cup of yogurt, says Huffington Post. After blending it all in a food processor or by hand, put a thin layer on your face, and leave on skin for 8-10 minutes. The brown sugar and yogurt exfoliate dead skin cells, and the honey moisturizes. Pumpkin contains beta-carotene; zinc; potassium; vitamins A, C, and E; and antioxidants.

3. Serve up a unique serving bowl

No need to get out the good china. Leftover pumpkins can make attractive tureens for fall soup or stews. Just cut the top off and remove all the pumpkin guts. But remember to place a liner or bowl inside to protect the food. You can also serve your cider or punch from the pumpkin. Once again, first remove the seeds and scoop out the pulp. Throw those in your composting pile or save the seeds for next year.

4. Fertilize your garden

Rautio says a pumpkin is best chipped up and broken down in a compost pile or bin rather than just throwing it into the garden. Some gardeners place vegetable and fruit scraps below the root zone of their garden with hopes that they will break down for future years. This is a handy practice in sandy soils because it can add organic material to better hold water and nutrients in those free-draining soils. If you already have good garden soil, pumpkins will break down faster in the compost bin.

5. Keep seeds to plant

Save the seeds of the pumpkins you liked the best so you can preserve the genes that make that pumpkin stand out, Rautio adds. First clean the seeds and then dry them out as much as possible before storing. Wet seeds can grow mold. Seeds can be easily dried on a piece of paper towel or paper plate in a warm dry place. You can then put them in a dry container with a top or put them in to a plastic bag. Any non-tropical plant seed can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to prolong its life. Put a date on the container as germination decreases from year-to-year.

6. Save the seeds to eat

Just like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds can be a great snack. “There are so many ways to flavor pumping seeds these days,” Rautio explains. Just wash the rind off the seeds, spread them on a tray to dry, spring on spices or other flavorings when dry, coat them with spray butter or toss in a bit of olive oil. Then, pop them in an oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, tossing once or twice. You can use ranch dressing seasoning or any herbs and spices you desire.

7. Feed livestock

Pigs eating pumpkins
Many farms are happy to take donated pumpkins off your hands. Credit: “Pumpkin Pigs 1,” Cedar Summit Farms, CC by SA 2.0

Rautio says you can feed your Halloween pumpkins to your cattle and such. “But they are not recommended as a primary food for them,” she says. Nonetheless, animals like pigs really seem to enjoy them as a treat. Deer like them a lot, too, so if you live in an area with deer, toss them leftover jack-o’-lanterns out back and they probably won’t last very long, she adds. You can even make a bird feeder out of a used pumpkin. Make sure there are enough holes for the birds to get in and out so they can eat the birdseed. And keep your eyes peeled for announcements from local farms — many are happy to take pumpkin donations for their livestock.

8. Feed yourself and your family

You can use carving Halloween pumpkins for cooking, but it won’t taste as good as those sugar pumpkins designated as cooking ones, Rautio says. The jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are blander.  But pumpkin puree can be added to many things to add flavor and fiber.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of pumpkin puree, cooked, boiled and drained, with no salt added, is low in calories, saturated fat and sugar. This means you get low fat and high nutrients in a yummy addition.

Here are some samples of ways to incorporate pumpkin or make it the star of some dishes and drinks;

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese – Maybe your kids won’t even notice you added a cup of pumpkin puree into their favorite dish. Here’s the recipe, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. It still has all the great gooey cheese they love.

Pumpkin Pancakes – Maybe you need to catapult your regular buttermilk or blueberry pancakes to another level. Here’s a recipe from the University of Illinois Extension Service for this tasty breakfast of pumpkin pancakes or anytime meal.

Pumpkin Soup – Something warm, creamy and fulfilling can help on those colder days of autumn. Why not try making a big pot of pumpkin soup?

DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte – As a substitute for hot cocoa or hot coffee, you can cozy up to a warm pumpkin latte to bring a taste of fall to your life. The recipe from The Food Network calls for espresso and pumpkin puree.

Whatever recipe you want to create, just remember pumpkin can add nutrition and a unique twist of flavor to something common. Enjoy.

Main image credit: “Pumpkin jam,” Miala, CC By SA 2.0

Tags