As a kid, Halloween was one of my first introductions to edible upcycling: when we carved our pumpkins, my dad made us save the slimy insides, which looked and felt like a mess for the trash can. We put them in a bowl of water, and he showed us how to slip the seeds off with our fingers. I became obsessed with finding every last seed, although we always had more than enough; when we roasted them with salt they were delicious, and I hated to see even one go to waste.
1.91 billion pounds of Halloween pumpkins are grown every year in the U.S., and while they’re perfectly ok to eat, most end up in the trash. Now, I love carving pumpkins and putting festive gourds around the house. But the more I’m learning about our food system, the more I’m seeing our fall decorations for what they so often become: a food waste problem. We owe it to our planet and ourselves to spend at least as much time upcycling our pumpkins as we do picking them out at the patch.
So, with ReGrained’s expert help, here are some tricks and treats to ensure you aren’t haunted by food waste this Halloween:
Decorate with edible squash
Instead of lacquered gourds, consider making an edible winter squash the centerpiece of your fall arrangement (you’ll also be saving space in the pantry!). Delicata and acorn squash are naturally beautiful, and even a plain butternut squash can make a statement among fall leaves. Winter squash will keep for 1-3 months if you don’t leave them anywhere really warm and sunny.
For carving, you might consider a smaller pie pumpkin, which will result in better flesh for eating. Historically, Jack-o-Lanterns were first made from hollowed out potatoes, rutabagas, and all kinds of squash (their namesake is the legend of a man named Stingy Jack, doomed for eternity to wander the night carrying a turnip lantern) -- so it’s actually traditional to get a little creative here!
Save the seeds (...from squash, too)
There’s about 1 cup of seeds in every pumpkin: rinse and dry them, toss them in a bit of oil, add salt and whatever seasonings you want to try (a personal favorite is brown sugar and cayenne), and roast them on a baking sheet until they’re lightly browned. Pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses, full of fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals (vitamins E & B, zinc, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants).
Even if you salvage a batch of pumpkin seeds every year, you might be surprised to learn that you can also eat the seeds from all other winter squashes, from spaghetti to acorn to butternut. Toast them up the same way: they’re unique, delicious, and have similar nutritional benefits. They make an impressive textural addition to squash soup or salad.
Reap what you scoop
This year, resist the urge to toss those sticky pumpkin guts after carving. They’re a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You can make a pumpkin “tea” by adding several cups of boiling water to the stringy insides and letting them soak for 30 minutes. Strained, the resulting bright orange water can be used to flavor soups, smoothies, or cocktails.
You should also put pumpkin guts on your face! Seriously -- vitamin E and carotenoids (the antioxidant that gives pumpkins their orange color) are supposed to be great for your skin, and pumpkin is popping up in all kinds of spa treatments. You can puree the guts and add honey and your favorite natural oil to make a DIY face mask. Or, with the addition of coarse raw sugar or salt, you can make a refreshing body scrub for the shower.
Puree the pieces
Besides the guts, when you carve a pumpkin, you often scrape and cut out a lot of good-to-eat flesh. Since the standard carving pumpkin is a bit less flavorful and more fibrous than a typical pie pumpkin, we recommend pureeing these pieces and using them in muffins or breads, where spices and sugar will enhance the natural pumpkin flavor. Another great candidate is soups -- add coconut milk and make a pumpkin curry.
Pickle your rinds
For the overachiever in each of you, we present the ultimate food waste Halloween challenge: pickled rinds from pumpkins or hard squash. There are several recipes you can follow, but the basic idea is to cut the rinds into strips, leaving about 1cm of flesh on them, and soak them in a salt or sugar overnight to soften them. The next day, drain and then boil them with water, vinegar, and spices (allspice, cinnamon, mustard…). Put the liquid and the rinds into a jar and leave in the fridge for a few days to pickle before eating. Did you know you can use this same technique to repurpose melon rinds?
Happy Halloween! We hope you'll try some of the ideas here and let us know what you think in the comments.
Thanks to Ridhima Phukan for contributions to this article.