Fall is my favorite time of year, yet I cringe every time it begins. Why? Because it seems like every business is in a frenzy to start the Christmas shopping season the day after Halloween ends. For those of us who are fans of pumpkins, that's a buzzkill.
It used to be that your decorative fall pumpkins could linger beyond the ghoulish holiday until Thanksgiving. With proper care, an uncarved pumpkin could even last through late winter for future consumption.
So what should you do with that pumpkin which has served you and your home so well this fall? Here are a variety of classic, creative, and unexpected uses for this former "must have" fall decoration that go beyond turning it into pie. (A lot of these ideas will also work on other types of squash.)
Toasted pumpkin seeds make for a quick and easy fall snack. To begin, scoop out the seeds with all of their tangled mass.
Pro tip: Shake the membrane above a bowl to remove most of the entangled seeds. Any seeds remaining in the membrane are easily removed by laying the membrane down and scraping away the remaining seeds with the back of your knife or spoon.
Another pro tip: At no point should you run the seeds under water to remove the membrane or clean them. The slightly slippery texture they have when removed from their orange home adds flavor when roasted and will enable the seeds to hold on to any spice or salt mixture you toss them in after roasting.
Once the seeds are free from the membrane, toss them in grapeseed or peanut oil, place on a foil-lined sheet pan, and put them in a 350°F/175°C oven until they turn a light to medium brown.
Immediately upon removal add the powered spice of your choice (think curry, herbs, Old Bay, or a spicy pepper mixture) or simply toss the seeds in salt and pepper.
Guests will flock to them like potato chips, but will also get many unexpected health benefits from eating them that a "chip" could never provide. If you have extra seeds, throw them on the salad as a garnish instead of croutons.
Pumpkin soup seems like something your grandmother probably made from scratch—but you can resurrect this timeless dish with relative ease. Once you have split the pumpkin and removed the seeds for the appetizer, roast the halves open side down in a 400°F/200°C degree oven until a knife easily pierces the shell. (An even easier way to get pumpkin flesh is by using a microwave instead of the oven!)
Remove the flesh when cool and use this as the main ingredient in any pumpkin soup recipe you desire. If you are making pumpkin soup for the first time, start with classic recipes before going "fusion" on anyone.
If you are going to be grandma's hero and recreate her all-time favorite soup, use your smallest pumpkins as the soup bowls and really impress granny and your guests. These bowls are made by simply cutting the top quarter off the pumpkin and removing the seeds and interior webbing. Use your knife to carve out a slightly larger hole in the pumpkin if necessary.
Pro tips: If you are serving a chilled soup such as a pumpkin/potato vichyssoise, let the pumpkin bowls chill for three hours before filling them. For a hot soup, simply put the "bowls" in the oven open side down for 15 minutes to warm them through so your hot soup ends up in a warm, but structurally stable bowl. Using the top of the pumpkin as a "cloche" is a very nice touch as well!
Roasting a pumpkin can offer the unexpected eye a variety of uses beyond the classic base for pumpkin pie. Imagine roasted pumpkin cubes alongside cauliflower, butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts for your Thanksgiving dinner. Since pumpkins are naturally sweet, they go great with brassicas.
As with all roasted vegetables, high heat (450°F/230°C) is essential in order to caramelize some of the free sugars found in the pumpkin ("free sugars" are those sugars found naturally in many root and gourd vegetables) so that the pumpkin cube exterior will get crispy while the interior gets soft. It's somewhat similar to Duchess Potatoes—but made with pumpkin!
If you are truly deviant (or just lazy) and do not have a pumpkin or the time to make any of the above dishes, never fear. You can do what many professional chefs have been doing for a millennium when faced with the time-consuming task of removing the shell from dozens of pumpkins and laboring for hours in order to create their so-called "famous pumpkin pie." Simply go to a grocery store, buy a few cans of sweet potato puree and work your culinary magic. Your guests will never know the difference! (Having a few cans of pumpkin puree never hurt anybody, either.)
Apple butter tends to get all the attention, but pumpkin butter might actually be even tastier. Take your roasted pumpkin cubes, put them in a food processor, add a knob of butter, maple syrup, and a touch of heavy creamy, and voilà—instant pumpkin butter. You can also make it in a slow cooker, too.
Add a few egg yolks to this sweet mixture, pour it into ramekins, cook in a bain marie (aka hot water bath) for 20 minutes at 250°F/120°C, and you have pumpkin custard for dessert.
In Korea, pumpkin purée forms the base for a special type of pancake called hobak hotteok. They're basically dough that's been stuffed with smooth pumpkin or squash filling and brown sugar and then fried. Korean Bapsang has a great recipe here.
The Koreans also make another type of pumpkin pancake, neulgun hobak jeon, using shredded instead of puréed pumpkin flesh. In this case, you actually want an older pumpkin since the flesh has more flavor. Beyond Kimchee has a great step-by-step tutorial. These pancakes are savory and and great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
If your dog or cat has, shall we say, GI problems (okay, if they have diarrhea a lot), then pumpkin can help. We won't go into the technical details (this is a post about how to eat pumpkins, after all), but suffice to say that pumpkin has a lot of soluble fiber in it, which can help remedy your pet's rumbly stomach. You can read more about why pumpkin works so many wonders here and here.
All you need to do is roast some pumpkin flesh as discussed above with no salt or seasonings. Mash it into a purée for easy eating. You can incorporate it into your pet's food, although dogs have been known to eat pumpkin by itself and enjoy it, too. (I don't know if cats feel the same way.)
Of course, you should always use your common sense. If your beloved pet is in severe distress, take 'em to a vet before trying to feed them pumpkin!
Many beauty companies sell "pumpkin peels," stating that the enzymes, vitamin A, and other nutrients will improve your skin. However, if you've got a pumpkin you need to use up, you can just blend some of it with milk and honey and make your own mask for a fraction of the cost.
If cooking is not your thing, then nothing is more fun than letting your inner Gallagher out and destroying your "punkin" in the most elaborate way possible—via aerial launch and obliteration. Almost 30 years ago, just down the road from where I sit, a group of citizens in Delaware started the very first "World Championship Punkin Chunkin" competition.
Since then competitors from all over the United States compete in different mechanical categories to see who can send their punkin the farthest distance in air. From French trebuchets to catapults and gas-powered canons, punkins have been sent flying distances that have exceeded 4,000 feet (that is only 1,000 feet short of a mile).
You don't have to travel to Delaware anymore to chunk your pumpkin, since many organizations across the country host similar competitions and are always looking for pumpkin donations and participants. But if all else fails, invite a couple friends over, grab a 10-pound sledge hammer, and swing away!
Don't forget you can also turn a pumpkin or two into a miniature beer-dispensing keg. Smashing pumpkins and drinking pumpkin-flavored beer go hand in hand.