Halloween is almost here and the 8-year-old (and the 28-year-old) in me just can’t wait! I broke down yesterday and bought a few organic pumpkins to carve into Jack-o-Lanterns, so trick-or-treaters will be sure to visit my house for sustainable palm oil candy.
While carving pumpkins is fun, it does lead to an incredible amount of food waste. According to NPR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins were grown in the U.S. in 2014, and only a fraction of that was eaten. A majority of the rest (around 1.3 billion pounds) ended up in landfills and released methane gas as they rotted away.
What a Grade-A waste of food and resources. Pumpkin plants require a ton of space, water, nutrients and sun to develop fruit – trust me, I’m an incredibly average backyard pumpkin grower. It’s heartbreaking that this nutrient-packed food source literally being turned against us, especially when hunger is still a worldwide issue and those resources could be used to grow food that will actually be eaten.
So what’s the least we can do?
For starters, on November 1, dispose of jack-o-lanterns in yard waste or compost, not the trash. If you don’t have access to either, feed it to an animal (my dog loves pumpkin and squash) or break it up and bury it in a garden bed to let it decompose and enrich the soil. Make sure the nutrients in that pumpkin benefit the Earth instead of harming it!
Then, be brave and try eating pumpkin. It’s not recommended to eat jack-o-lanterns that have been sitting outside, but for those late-season carvers, here are a few recipes to try with fresh pumpkin.
Let these recipes be a stepping stone to seeing pumpkin (and all gourds and squash, for that matter) as food first and decoration second.
Note: I strongly recommend using organic pumpkin purchased at a nursery or local farm.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
As you’re carving pumpkins, dig out the seeds and collect them in a colander. Then rinse them and pick out the orange pumpkin flesh. To dry them, place them in the oven at 350 degrees for one hour, or spread them on a baking sheet and let them sit out for at least 24 hours.
Once the seeds are dry they are ready to season. There are countless recipes for seasoning. I kept it simple this year and mixed my seeds in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a 1/2 tablespoon of minced garlic, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Roast them at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Roasted seeds are best when they’re still warm, but make a really good snack for several days after. I’ve been happily crunching on mine while writing this.
About once a week my wife makes a pan of roasted, seasoned veggies. This meal almost always includes squash – so why can’t it include pumpkin? After all, pumpkin is just a type of squash.
This meal is quick, nutritious, vegan/vegetarian, and a great way to incorporate awkward little batches of homegrown produce. It also might be the ideal place to try those “decorative” squashes and gourds sitting on your front step. Yes, those are all edible.
This year, I took the chunks we carved out of our jack-o-lanterns, cut off the skin and string parts, and chopped them into one inch cubes to incorporate with roasted veggies.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel, cut and cube your favorite veggies – broccoli, asparagus, squash, Brussel sprouts, onion, potato carrots and, of course, pumpkin.
Toss the veggies in olive oil and season with salt, pepper, fresh or powdered garlic and thyme.
Spread into a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, stirring/flipping halfway through. That’s it. We often make a side of quinoa or some other grain to eat with it.