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Use Every Part of Your Pumpkin for Tasty Savings

Get creative with this fall favorite to save money and prevent waste

a pumpkin patch
fotog / Getty Images

There’s no more obvious sign that fall has arrived than the bright orange pumpkins decorating neighbors’ porches, piled high at the local farm stand or featured as the seasonal latte flavor at your favorite coffee bar.

But don’t limit yourself to buying a giant pumpkin for Halloween and then discarding it once trick-or-treaters have come and gone. There’s so much you can do with this versatile winter squash.

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More than 2 billion pumpkins are produced annually, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, so make full use of the harvest and get your money’s worth. Pumpkins are packed with vitamin A, are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and are loaded with beta carotene, a powerful, cancer-fighting antioxidant, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

The pumpkins most people select for their jack-o’-lanterns are typically grown for size and shape, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more flavorful. Different types of pumpkins contain varying amounts of water and offer varying textures, so keep that in mind if you plan to cook them. The good news is that all pumpkins can be consumed in their entirety (except for the stem). If you’re following a recipe, you’ll want to see if a particular variety is best. Consider one of the many heirloom varieties available at your local store or farmers market.

Whatever kind of pumpkin you buy, using the whole thing is fun, saves you money and will yield many a meal long after the Halloween decorations have been packed away.

Pumpkins for decoration

Jack O' Lanterns and other Halloween decor on a table
Inside Creative House / Getty Images

There is one type of pumpkin that’s not for cooking, and that’s the one you carved and have displayed by your front door.

“Once you cut open a pumpkin, it begins to rot,” says Joe Frillman, executive chef of Daisies restaurant in Chicago. You can use the guts and the seeds that you pull out of a fresh pumpkin prior to carving it, but whatever is left sitting outside runs the risk of animal contamination and should not be consumed.

Pumpkins used as part of a tablescape are OK to eat, but do not consume anything that’s been decorated with permanent marker or other potentially toxic art supplies.

In these cases, repurpose your pumpkins in a non-edible way. Cut off the top, fill it with birdseed and turn it into a bird feeder. Or fill it with soil and plant hearty fall flowers like mums or pansies. It can even make a beautiful centerpiece for Thanksgiving — pumpkins can last eight to 12 weeks if they’re not cut open.

Peels for stocks and sauces

woman peeling a pumpkin
Michael Moeller / EyeEm / Getty Images

Peeling your pumpkin is easy – many chefs suggest peeling with a paring knife or pulling off strips of peel after roasting or microwaving pumpkin chunks. But most peels end up in the compost bin , even though there are myriad ways to cook with them. Frillman adds the peels to vegetable stock as a starter for soups, stews and even pasta sauces. If you plan to slice and roast your pumpkin, feel free to leave the skin on during roasting and then dig out the flesh.

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Consume the fantastic flesh

pumpkin cut into pieces
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There are many ways to use the flesh, or meat, of the pumpkin. To roast, simply halve your pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and guts, and coat with a little olive oil and seasonings, whether sweet (cinnamon, clove, pumpkin pie flavors) or savory (salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika). You can also cube the pumpkin before cooking. Eat the roasted cubes as a delicious side dish, or puree them with the juice from the pumpkin guts (see below) to make a filling for a pie or pasta.

Most pumpkin recipes call for cooking or baking the flesh, but did you know you can also eat it raw?

“Raw pumpkin is a sleeper,” Frillman says. “Take a peeler and shave raw pumpkin and make a salad out of it. It’s like a cross between a green papaya and a muted melon flavor — catches people by surprise.”

Snack on pumpkin seeds

two handfuls of pumpkin seeds
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Part of the fun of making jack-o’-lanterns is roasting and eating the pumpkin seeds. And for good reason — they are delicious! Pumpkin seeds also pack in the nutrition, delivering a healthy dose of fiber, magnesium and other nutrients.

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The process is easy: Simply remove and rinse the seeds (but don’t get rid of the slimy stuff; we’ll get to that next). Sprinkle with salt and allow to dry.

Roast the seeds at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 25 minutes; keep an eye on them, and remove when they turn golden brown.

Once the seeds are done, get creative. Toss them in any number of seasonings, from cinnamon sugar to curry to everything-bagel spice.

You can also candy those pumpkin seeds. Once they’ve been rinsed and dried, toss the seeds in a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Roast them at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 45 minutes, and you’ll have a delicious topper for a dessert or a sweet snack on its own.

Go for the guts

removing insides of pumpkin with spoon into bowl
rez-art/Getty Images

The stringy, slimy guts inside a pumpkin may seem gross, but they are packed with flavor that shouldn’t go to waste. Separate out the guts and put them through a juicer.

“Even if you don’t have a juicer, you can puree them in a blender,” Frillman says. You can then combine the puree with roasted pumpkin for a hearty ravioli filling, add it to soups or sauces, or mix some into your oatmeal for a fall treat. You can also add it to your pumpkin bread batter to up the flavor.

Still have leftovers? Blend this “juice” with some honey and yogurt for a calming DIY spa face mask.

As for the stem, toss it into the compost pile after using every other bit of that versatile, delicious pumpkin.