Pumpkins, pumpkins, everywhere. Nothing says "Halloween is coming!" quite like this beautiful orange squash. Most Halloween pumpkins go directly from doorstep to landfill and a quick Google search reveals that millions of tonnes of pumpkins are wasted every single year. The horror!
If you plan to carve a jack-o-lantern this year, this guide will help you make the most of your pumpkin, keeping it out of the landfill and in your tummy! It's easier than you might realize. From shopping, to carving, to cooking, making the most of your pumpkin is easier than you think.
This blog post is not a step by step on how to carve your pumpkin - it is a practical guide, written from experience, intended to make it as easy as possible for you to use up every last bit of your pumpkin!
GETTING YOUR PUMPKIN
1) Will you need a shopping bag? Don't forget to bring your reusable one!
2) Reduce your carbon footprint and support local: try your best to support a locally owned business that stocks locally grown pumpkins.
3) Pumpkins often come in great big cardboard boxes, and sometimes as you dig for that perfect pumpkin, you come across a rotting one. If this happens, please find a member of the staff and ask them to remove the rotting pumpkin and clean up any juices it has left in its wake. This will help ensure the rest of the pumpkins don't follow suit. You know what they say about one bad apple... the same is true of one bad pumpkin!
We've all seen those carving kits at the local dollar store. You know the ones I'm talking about: the tiny saw and spork with cheap plastic handles, the booklet full of designs you have no intention of using, all packed in small plastic bags inside a slightly bigger plastic bag, which all too many people carry out of the store in yet another plastic bag. They get used for one season, and then often thrown in the garbage (along with the pumpkin guts) once the masterpiece-o-lantern is complete. So. Much. Waste. Here are some easy waste-saving tips to help you choose the best tools for you.
1) Use what you have.
You don't need to buy specific tools to carve a great pumpkin! A large metal spoon is excellent for cleaning out your pumpkin, and a serrated blade is all you need to carve through the flesh.
2) Buy second-hand.
If you want smaller tools for a more detailed design, try to buy second hand first! Check thrift stores and be sure to look on your favourite online buy and sell groups and/or sites. Better still, see if you can borrow tools from a friend or family member!
3) If you do buy carving tools new, choose well and use them respectfully so you can keep them from year to year.
If you can't borrow or buy second hand and have decided that you would like to purchase carving tools, choose well and hold on to them. Rather than purchasing several packages with only one knife and spoon in each, try to find one package with several carving tools. Don't waste your money on those spoons or scrapers, a large metal spoon works even better!
Be sure to wash your tools when you are done with them rather than throwing them out. They are easy to store away for next year; we keep all our carving tools in a basket at the back of a seldom-used kitchen drawer. They are out of the way year round, and easy to find when we are ready to use them!
If you don't want to keep them, list them online or bring them to a thrift shop for someone else to enjoy!
PREPARING YOUR SPACE
The big secret to making your carving experience as EASY as possible is all in the prep!
1) Wash Your Pumpkins Ahead of Time
You want to be able to use as much of your pumpkin as possible: be sure to start your carving session with clean pumpkins and clean hands. Remember, you are playing with your food!
2) Cover Your Space
I like to cover my space with a reusable plastic table cloth. It is easy to wipe clean when we are done with it and put it away for future use! If you don't already have a dedicated table cloth for mess-making, you can use newspaper to cover your work area. If you no longer receive newspaper or flyers, ask your neighbour if you can have theirs once they are done with it. You don't need to wipe it clean when you're done, instead it can go straight into your compost bin with any left over pumpkin bits that are stuck on top!
3) Make Sure You Have Room
There is nothing fun about trying to empty a sink or fridge with pumpkin guts all over your hands, believe me. Before you start, make sure you have an empty sink and clear some room in your fridge. Trust me. If there is one thing you take away from this article, let this be it!
If carving took more time, energy, or space than you expected, it is so nice to be able to throw your bowls in the sink or pumpkin guts in the fridge without having to stress about it.
4) Dedicated Bowls
Every year, we carve pumpkins with another family. That's six pumpkins every halloween. That's a lot of guts. That's a lot of seeds to separate. That's just a LOT of pumpkin. I used to spend so much time trying to separate the stringy guts from the usable guts from the seeds to make sure as much of the pumpkin could be eaten as possible. Last year, I tried something new and it CHANGED EVERYTHING.
Dedicated bowls. It sounds crazy, but hear me out. I put out loads of bowls for pumpkin guts. Instead of everyone getting their own bowl, everyone puts different types of guts in different bowls. Seeds together, stringy guts together, flesh (the part you scrape out with a spoon), and chunks (the pieces you carve out) together. All of these are prepared differently in the kitchen, and having everyone on the same page about what goes where as you hollow out the pumpkins is the biggest game-changer and time-saver EVER. You're welcome.
CARVING: GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PUMPKIN
1) Scrape out as much flesh as you possible can. This is your pumpkin soup, your pumpkin loaf, your pumpkin puree, your pumpkin pie. This stuff is golden. Scrape out as much as you possibly can. In other words, you want the "walls" of your pumpkin to be as thin as possible. Scrape, scrape, scrape. And then, scrape some more! Use as much of your pumpkin as you can.
2) Ready to have your world turned upside down? Instead of cutting the top off your pumpkin, cut a similar shape off the bottom! I love this approach for several reasons:
A) I find it easier to light the candle and place the pumpkin over top, rather than trying to light it inside the pumpkin.
B) The lid doesn't interfere with your design, you can't see the cut line, and don't need to worry about putting the top on "the right way."
C) MORE ROAST PUMPKIN!
Pictured here from top to bottom, left to right: scraped pumpkin flesh, pumpkin bottoms, and seeds (boiled for ten minutes before roasting). These are all baking as we carve our pumpkins! There will be more to roast soon.
Hot tip for rinsing your seeds: I like to fill my seed-bowl up with water.The guts stay at the bottom, and the seeds float to the top. I massage them a bit in the bowl to loosen some of the guts. From there, I use my hands to scoop the seeds from the bowl to a strainer, and give them another rinse.
The real secret to perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds: Rinse the guts off, Boil them in salt water for ten minutes, then roast with your favourite seasoning blend for approximately 20 minutes, stirring half way through. Lay them out on your sheet evenly without any overlapping for best results. I have Oh She Glows to thank for this hot tip! It really does make for the crispiest, most delicious roasted pumpkin seeds.
I like to throw my stringy guts raw, directly into the food processor or blender. I use this part of the pumpkin in one of two ways.
1) I bake homemade dog treats (there are so many recipes online!)
2) I will use this in place of grated zucchini in zucchini bread recipes.
Remember, all this flesh got it's own bowl at your carving table. You don't have to pick out any seeds or stringy guts. It's ready to bake or cook, and there is so much you can do with it!
To make pumpkin puree: simply put this beautiful scraped flesh into whatever bakeware you have, add a little bit of water (just enough to cover the bottom of your casserole dish), and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes at 375F. Throw it in a blender or food processor when you're done, and you have pumpkin puree for cooking and baking all your favourite pumpkin recipes.
Instead of keeping the bottom with the pumpkin, I brush it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and a little bit of garlic powder, and roast it in the oven.
I also like to cut the skin off of all the chunks and pieces that got carved out of the pumpkin (good thing everyone remembered to wash their hands). I drizzle the pieces with olive oil, add some salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and roast it in the oven with my pumpkin bottoms.
Eat your roast pumpkin as is, or turn it into a delicious soup.
Once Halloween is over and your Jack-o-Lantern is all sunken, sad, and misshapen, it's time to say "goodbye." Instead of putting your pumpkin in the garbage can and sending it to landfill, compost it! Make sure to remove any plastic pieces and the candle, only organic materials can go in your compost bin. If you don't have a compost bin, include it with your yard waste rather than with your rubbish for pick up.
That's it! That's all there is to it. The biggest thing to help make this as easy as possible is to spend a bit of time getting things ready. Clean work area, clean hands, organized bowls, and you're off to the races. If you don't have the time or energy to do it all in one go, no problem. That's what your fridge is for! With everyone helping to sort their guts as they go, it is easy for you to leave your guts for tomorrow.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! I hope it is helpful and that you're able to make the most of your pumpkin.
I would love it if you could take your commitment to reducing waste just one step further! The City of Edmonton has released a Waste Reduction Roadmap Survey. If you are local to Edmonton, please fill it out before November 1 to make sure your voice is heard! Please complete the survey, and show your support for the City taking strong action on waste reduction, including the implementation of the single-use framework developed by Waste Free Edmonton.