Carving a Pumpkin This Fall? Don't Throw Any of It Away!


"Jeff, can't we at least celebrate the holiday before you eat the decorations?" I've heard that more than once from my long-suffering wife during our 26-year marriage.

You see, cheapskates like to celebrate Halloween and other holidays just like everyone else. But we grimace at wasteful rituals like throwing away a perfectly good pumpkin after using it for only a few days as a decoration. Americans buy more than one billion pounds of pumpkins at Halloween, and the vast majority of those end up in the trash. But at the Green Cheapskate's house, we eat our jack-o-lantern, every last bit of it.

While some particularly meaty varieties of pumpkins are specifically grown to be eaten (including Sweet Jack-be-Littles, Cheese Pumpkins, Sugar Pumpkins and some delicious heirloom varieties), any commonly available pumpkin is perfectly edible. Best of all, at Halloween (and immediately after Halloween) you can usually buy pumpkins for less than half a buck a pound. At that price, why not pick up a couple extra just to eat?

Pumpkins are a true American vegetable, a favorite of the Aztec, Inca and Mayan people before becoming a staple of early European explorers and settlers in the New World. Pumpkins belong to the same family (Cucurbitacae) as gourds, melons and cucumbers. And, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, pumpkins are packed with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer.

If you're buying a pumpkin specifically for eating, the smaller ones are usually the best. If you're going to use it as a jack-o'-lantern as well, you can eat or freeze some of the pumpkin when you carve it, and then pickle the remaining rind when Halloween is over, provided that it's still in good shape. So, here's how to eat your jack-o-lantern:

Seeds First

Toasted pumpkin seeds are a healthy snack filled with zinc, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and protein. They're also great in salads, muffins, bread, and in other recipes as a nut substitute.

Remove the seeds, rinse them in water to get rid of the stringy inner membrane, and dry them out a little on a towel. Flavor with coarse salt for a traditional taste, or let your imagination and spice rack run wild. Some options for flavoring designer seeds include: pumpkin pie spice; Cajun seasonings; ginger powder; garlic salt; curry powder; Tabasco; cinnamon; vinegar and salt. Once seasoned, bake the seeds on a lightly oiled cookie sheet (single layer thick) in a 250-degree oven for about an hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Or, my preferred method is to cook them in a spray-oiled skillet over medium heat on the stove top, stirring and shaking (the skillet, not your booty) constantly. On the stove top, they'll be toasted nicely brown in only about five minutes. Store in air-tight containers.

The Meat of the Matter

The thick, bright orange pulp lining the inside of the pumpkin is the real meat of the matter when it comes to making pies, cakes, bread, soups and most other pumpkin delicacies. Using a large spoon or other sharp-edged instrument, scrape and scoop the pulp from inside the pumpkin, working it down about an inch or so, to the whitish-colored layer beneath the skin. This will leave you with the outer shell to carve as a jack-o'-lantern. If you're not going to get double duty out of your pumpkin as a lantern, then it's easier to slice it as you would a melon and use a knife to peel away the outer skin and white layer.

Once you've extracted the pulp, steam it over a pot of water until it's tender (about 30 minutes or more). Run it through a food processor to puree or mash by hand (add a dash of lemon juice to prevent freezer burn), and freeze it in plastic bags or containers to use later in your favorite recipes. You can also eat the cooked pulp just like squash, but it's even better than squash. Here are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes:

Pumpkin Cider Bisque:

Make a cream soup by melting two tablespoons butter and mixing in 2 tablespoon flour, and then slowly stir in 2 cups of whole milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened. Add one cup pumpkin puree (see above), and heat through. Slowly add 2 cups cider. Correct seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, or cold with apple slices to garnish. (4 servings / approx. cost per serving = 30 cents)

Pumpkin Milk Shake:

Try this one as soon as the pulp cools. In a blender, mix 1 cup vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup milk, 4 tablespoons pumpkin puree, and a dash of any or all of the following: pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, nutmeg, rum extract. (1 serving / approx. cost per serving =35 cents)

Jack-o-Lantern Casserole:

The Green Cheapskate's salute to cosmetic surgery -- truly tongue AND cheek, but pretty tasty. Save the cut-out nose, mouth, eyes, etc. from your jack-o'-lantern carving to decorate this face-shaped casserole. Fry one pound of sausage and one cup of chopped onion on the stovetop until brown. Add two cups of cubed, raw pumpkin pulp (you can get about that much by cutting the pulp off from the bottom of your jack-o'-lantern lid). Cook it for about 5 minutes, until the pumpkin starts to soften.

Stir in one can of condensed Cheddar cheese soup and 1/4 cup milk, and remove from heat. Grease a round or oval casserole baking dish (about face size). In the empty dish, mix two cups Bisquick mix with 3/4 cup water, spreading the dough evenly on the bottom of the dish. Pour meat mixture on top of dough. Sprinkle one cup shredded Cheddar cheese on top of casserole. Spray "face parts" lightly with spray oil, and arrange on top of casserole. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until face parts are lightly brown and the dough has cooked through. (6 servings / approx. cost per serving = 60 cents)

Truly Smashing Pickled Pumpkin Rinds:

If your lantern survives the night of hell-raising by neighborhood teens and shows no signs of worrisome rot, inordinate candle scorching, or excessive wax buildup, real cheapskates separate themselves from the rest by pickling the rind of their jack-o'-lanterns the day after Halloween. I'm told by Miser Adviser Doris Sharp that this dish is particularly popular in Northern Germany. Here's how:

Peel off the outer skin and cut the white-colored rind (about 1 inch thick) into two inch squares. For each pound of pumpkin, use 3/4 lb sugar, 2 cups vinegar and a piece of fresh ginger. Use a stick of cinnamon for the whole batch of several pounds. Put pumpkin in vinegar and let it soak overnight. Remove the pumpkin from vinegar (discard*) and let it dry on a towel. Bring fresh vinegar to a boil with sugar, ginger and a stick of cinnamon. Add pumpkin and simmer until pieces are translucent and golden yellow, about 3 hours on low heat. Never stir with a spoon; just shake the pot occasionally so the pumpkin doesn't fall apart. Can and seal, or store in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks.

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture

I, too, love these bright orange globes. Seeds, pumpkin flesh and rind. Roasted seeds. Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin Flan. Pumpkin challah bread. Pumpkin with maple syrup. Pumpkin tea from the rinds.

Guest's picture


Really superbly written article. I might have to find that book of yours.

I think I'll buy a pumpkin just for eating this year. I'll wait until after halloween.

My plan is to make the seeds and tell me if this sounds too outrageous, but I think I might try to make a sort of lightly sweet custard pie of the flesh. : )

Actually I will really change the standard pumpkin pie recipe, I'll use dark molasses for sweetening, lots of vanilla, a little cinnamon, maybe the tiniest amount of nutmeg and that will be it. I do occasionally like those spicy pumpkin pies with all the Allspice, Nutmeg, Mace and Ginger, but not this time. I am going to model this after a sweet potato pie. Less spice, less sweet, less custardy, lots of earthy pumpkin flavor. Man, I'm making myself hungry.

Guest's picture

I usually use my leftover pumpkin as soup. Just add chicken broth, spices , parsley, and cream/half and half with salt.

Guest's picture

We don't even rinse the seeds before roasting. I do pull off any big clumps of goo, but otherwise roast the seeds as is, spread out on a sheet pan and brushed lightly with a little melted butter and sprinkled with salt. Yum!!! And the whole house smells wonderful, too :)

Guest's picture
Amy K.

When soaking the rind overnight, is that in straight vinegar, or in vinegar mixed with sugar and cinnamon? What does the soaking do? Why is it discarded rather than re-used as the brine?

Guest's picture

I usually make good use of jack-o-lanterns after halloween. But i just got my first vegetable garden, and the first thing I'm going to plant in it, is this year's jack-o-lantern.

I just have to look up the specifics on how to do that exactly. Any advice?

Guest's picture

I usually eat most of the roasted seeds, but I guess I lost a few last year between Halloween and Thanksgiving. I also make pie and roasted pumpkin soup. I also bought a couple of those cute little orange and white tiny pumpkins called "baby boo" and "Jack be Little" and one big white pumpkin as a decoration. Any scraps or goo leftover is dumped into the composter. Well, this year, we had quite a few volunteers in the garden- including japanese pumpkins (kabocha) big white pumpkins, baby boo, Jack be Little, big orange pumpkins and a couple of sugar sweets- compliments of the composter and some watering! (we also somehow ended up with 36 spaghetti squash that all weigh over 6 lbs. but that's another composter story) So, not only do we consume pretty much the whole darn pumpkin, they were FREE this year too! (and our rain barrels provided a lot of free water so I can't even count that as cost)

Guest's picture
M. Wong

I live in LA where it's still hot enough on Halloween to have your carved pumpkin succumb to disgusting black mold overnight. But, uncarved, pumpkins stay fresh for months. So I buy a set of cute sugar pumpkins around Halloween (the popular carvable types aren't that tender or yummy) and those sit on my porch as decoration until Thanksgiving when they are cooked down to make pie.

I'm going to have to try the pickle recipe!

Carrie Kirby's picture

When the kids carved their pumpkins yesterday, I didn't want to dig out the pulp. I was too lazy. But cutting off the inside of the lid would have been easy.

Now that they sat out overnight inside our house, I don't think I want to use them, though. They are probably spoiled. At least I know our pumpkins tend to get moldy before Halloween even arrives. We can't put them outside where it is cooler because the squirrels will eat them.

By the way, when I cook a whole pumpkin I find it much easier to bake than steam. Just half it and put on a cookie sheet, then the pulp will come out so much easier when it's done.

Guest's picture

An idea came to me late that first night while everyone else was fast asleep and it turned out to be a good one.....keep the pumpkin face down in the pan and skin the pumpkin with a melon baller. You wouldn't believe how smooth the skin peels off, and most importantly, there's no wasted pumpkin!

Guest's picture

An idea came to me late that first night while everyone else was fast asleep and it turned out to be a good one.....keep the pumpkin face down in the pan and skin the pumpkin with a melon baller. You wouldn't believe how smooth the skin peels off, and most importantly, there's no wasted pumpkin!