En español | I like to celebrate Halloween as much as anybody else, but I grimace at the thought of throwing away a perfectly good pumpkin after using it for only a few days as a decoration.
Americans buy more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkins at Halloween, and the vast majority of those end up in the trash. But at this cheapskate's house, we eat our jack-o'-lantern — every last bit of it.
See also: Don't throw that away!
While some varieties of pumpkins are specifically grown to be eaten and are a little meatier and tastier (including sweet Jack Be Littles, Cheese Pumpkins, sugar pumpkins and some delicious heirloom varieties), any commonly available pumpkin is edible.
Pumpkins are a true American vegetable, a favorite of Native Americans before becoming a staple of early European explorers and settlers in the New World. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, pumpkins are packed with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer.
Best of all, at Halloween (and immediately after Halloween) you can usually buy pumpkins for less than half a buck a pound. 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.
Here's how to eat all of your jack-o'-lantern:
Get Creative With the Seeds
Toasted pumpkin seeds are a healthy snack, filled with magnesium, zinc, manganese, iron, copper and protein. They're also great as a nut substitute in bread, salads, muffins and other recipes.
- Remove the seeds and rinse them in water to get rid of the stringy inner membrane.
- Let them dry on a paper towel.
- Flavor with coarse salt for a traditional flavor, or let your imagination and spice rack run wild. Some of my favorite options for flavoring seeds include: Cajun seasonings, ginger powder, pumpkin pie spice, garlic salt, curry powder, chili powder, cinnamon, vinegar and salt.
- After you've seasoned them, 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 try my preferred method of cooking them in a spray-oiled skillet over medium heat on the stove top, stirring and shaking constantly for about five minutes.
- Store in airtight containers.
Make the Most of the Pulp
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 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 use your pumpkin as a lantern, then it's easier to simply 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 boiling water for about 30 minutes or longer until it's tender.
- Run the pulp through a food processor to puree or mash it by hand (add a dash of lemon juice to prevent discoloration).
- Freeze in plastic bags or containers to use later.
You can eat cooked pumpkin pulp just like squash, with salt, pepper and butter. Here are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes:
Pumpkin Cider Bisque
A fall tradition at The House of Cheap.
- Make a cream soup by melting 2 tablespoons butter and mixing in 2 tablespoons flour, and then slowly stir in 2 cups whole milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened.
- Add 1 cup cooked pumpkin puree (see above), and heat through.
- Slowly add 2 cups cider. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, or cold with apple slices to garnish.
(4 servings; approximate cost per serving: 40 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; approximate cost per serving: 45 cents)
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I always make this casserole the day we carve our pumpkin. When carving your jack-o'-lantern, save the cutout nose, mouth, eyes, etc., to decorate this face-shaped casserole.
- Fry 1 pound sausage and 1 cup chopped onion on the stove top until brown.
- Add 2 cups cubed, raw pumpkin pulp (you can get about that much by cutting off the pulp from the bottom of your jack-o'-lantern lid).
- Cook the pulp for about 5 minutes, until the pumpkin starts to soften.
- Stir in 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup and 1/4 cup whole milk and remove from the heat.
- Grease an oval or round casserole baking dish (about the size of a face).
- In the empty dish, mix 2 cups Bisquick mix with 3/4 cup water, spreading the dough evenly on the bottom of the dish.
- Pour the meat mixture on top of the dough. Sprinkle 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese on top of the casserole.
- Spray the "face parts" lightly with spray oil and arrange on top of the casserole.
- Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until the face parts are lightly browned and the dough has cooked through.
(6 servings; approximate cost per serving: 75 cents)
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.
- One of my Miser Advisers, Doris Sharp, gave me this old German recipe:
- Use a vegetable peeler to remove orange outer skin, and then cut the white-colored rind (about 1-inch thick) into 2-inch squares.
- Cover pumpkin cubes with apple cider vinegar and let soak overnight. Remove the pumpkin from the vinegar (discard* the vinegar) and let it dry on a towel.
- Make a mixture of fresh vinegar, sugar, ginger and cinnamon, and bring to a boil on the stove. (For each pound of pumpkin, use 3/4 pound sugar, 2 cups vinegar and a piece of fresh ginger. Add a stick of cinnamon for the whole batch of several pounds.)
- Add the pumpkin and simmer until the 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.
(*Doris is uncomfortable with the thought of discarding anything, even spent vinegar, so she instead uses it to clean some windows around her house while her pumpkin rinds are cooking. You gotta love a truly frugal woman.)
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.
Updated October 2012