Beyond Jack-O’-Lanterns: 21 Creative and Tasty Ways to Use Pumpkins
Here’s the latest Halloween scoop: Pumpkins have an afterlife just like ghosts.
They aren’t just for jack-o’-lanterns anymore. Whether you’re into sustainable composting, pumpkin pancakes or Pinterest-worthy holiday decor, pumpkins serve so many more purposes than just becoming Jack o’ lanterns with scary faces.
When you make that all-important fall rite of passage and pick out the perfect pumpkin from a patch or the grocery store, consider all of this fruit’s possibilities (Yes, it’s a fruit.) Get the most out of your money and use that pumpkin for two, three or four more purposes.
What to Do With Your Pumpkin After Halloween
Whether it becomes a tasty snack or a creative project, you can get a lot more life out of your pumpkin.
The Top Choice? Eat Your Pumpkin
Eating your pumpkin is probably the most enjoyable way to use it. There’s a pumpkin recipe for every part of your gourd — even those stringy guts.
While carving pumpkins aren’t quite as flavorful as other varieties (such as sugar or pie pumpkins), they’ll still work for any of these dishes.
You’ll find the best prices for pumpkins at farmers markets, independent stands and church pumpkin patches. The average pumpkin costs about $5.40, but expect to pay more for an oversized gourd.
1. Make Pumpkin Puree
While it doesn’t sound appetizing on its own, pumpkin puree is the gourd’s gift that keeps on giving.
It’s incredibly versatile: You’ll be able to turn your puree into pumpkin muffins, breads and soups down the road — or even a delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Pumpkin puree is the base for most of the dishes on this list.
Creating the puree is simple: Just boil, bake or steam your pumpkin, according to Good Housekeeping. If you used a real candle in your Jack-o’ lantern, make sure to cut off and discard any burned sections or leftover wax.
The puree freezes well for future use; I like to use zip-closure freezer bags, filled and partially flattened for easy stacking.
2. Brew Pumpkin Spice Latte
Curl up on your own couch with a homemade pumpkin spice latte. Save time and money and make that “me time” a little more cozy. Here’s a recipe that can even be vegan from Champagne-Tastes.com.
- 2 tablespoons of pumpkin spice puree (canned or homemade)
- 4 ounces brewed espresso (The link has hacks if you don’t have an espresso machine.)
- ½ cup milk or coconut milk
- Optional additions: 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and/or cinnamon or nutmeg
- Brew espresso and steam milk. If you don’t have a milk steamer, heat milk on the stovetop and use a hand-held frother or immersion blender to create some froth. Froth is optional.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the pumpkin spice purée into each coffee cup. Divide the espresso between the two cups, and then stir to help blend the pumpkin and espresso.
- Pour milk into each espresso, holding back the froth with a spoon. Top with foam. Optionally, dust with more cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Note: Because we’re using real pumpkins, some sediment may settle if the drinks are left to rest before drinking. If not serving immediately, make sure to stir again before serving.
3. Enjoy a Pumpkin Cocktail or Pumpkin Beer
For those looking for something a little stronger than a latte, pumpkins can give a seasonal touch to custom cocktails, too.
Are you getting in a festive mood? Liquor.com offers 11 recipes for drinks that taste better with a dash of pumpkin. From a pumpkin Toddy to a pumpkin nog, there’s a drink with a hint of fall in it suitable for any palate.
4. Bake a Pumpkin Lasagna
Need a dinner idea for Nov. 1? Try this yummy vegetarian pumpkin lasagna.
Taste of Home calls it a “comforting fall dish” — who doesn’t love those?
5. Make Pumpkin Butter
This seasonal treat is delicious on toast, in smoothies or on oatmeal. You can make it pumpkin spice season all year if you freeze extra pumpkin puree.
Check out this simple recipe on Oh She Glows. (Bonus, if this is important to you: It’s vegan).
6. Snack on Roasted Seeds
They’re a classic snack for a reason. A handful of roasted pumpkin seeds is a delicious way to get iron, magnesium, zinc and a healthy dose of fiber.
Roasting them is simple — just dry out the seeds and bake them on a baking sheet with olive oil and salt. Then, play with toppings to find the ones that work for you: salt and pepper, chili powder or cinnamon and clove are all good options.
7. Make Vegetable Stock with the Guts
While the flesh and seeds are often popular foods, the stringy insides of pumpkins usually go straight to the trash or compost. No more!
Try adding them to other veggie bits like carrot tops and/or onion ends to make a flavorful stock.
8. Bake Pumpkin Gut Bread
If you’re looking for something a little heartier than soup, try this recipe from Diana Johnson of Eating Richly. She calculates that making two loaves costs about $2.
9. Cook Pumpkin Risotto
Another way to put those pumpkin guts to use: Try this delicious pumpkin risotto that Gothamist Editor Nell Casey adapted from The New York Times.
10. Make Pumpkin Pickles
If you’re pickle-obsessed, you’ll want to try these babies. For a sweeter pickle to go with desserts or cheese platters, try this pickled sugar pumpkin recipe from Serious Eats.
11. Dry Pumpkin Skin into Chips
This is a whole different kind of chip that’s filling and fun.
Use a dehydrator or your oven to dry the skin into crispy chips for snacks or garnishes, recommends Gina Harney of Fitnessista.
Decorate With Pumpkins
Even if Halloween is over, fall continues. Pumpkins make great additions to your home, garden and holiday decorations.
12. Use Pumpkins as Serving Bowls
Save on decorations (and dishwashing) by using pumpkins as serving bowls for soup or cider.
Here’s an easy way to make a pumpkin bowl, from Sanam Lamborn of My Persian Kitchen.
13. Turn a Pumpkin into a Planter
Keep the fall festivities going by using your pumpkin as a planter for a small potted plant.
The planter will last for several weeks, and then you can plant it directly in your garden to decompose.
14. Create a Pumpkin Bird Feeder
Feeling artsy? Feed your neighborhood birds by making this simple bird feeder from Instructables.
15. Save Them for Your Thanksgiving Table
No need to spend extra money on table decorations — plan to keep a pumpkin or two, and you’ll be all set. Use Pinterest for ideas and inspiration.
Your pumpkins will make it to Thanksgiving as long as you choose wisely. An uncarved, healthy pumpkin “can last 8 to 12 weeks,” according to Cornell University horticulturist Steve Reiners on NPR.
16. Make Pumpkin Snowmen
Three white pumpkins or three pumpkins painted white make up a really hip snowman on your front steps. Look at this cute, crafty way to make it happen. You’ll get an early start on your winter decorating. And, if you’re feeling entrepreneurial, you could even try selling your creations.
If you don’t want to cook or decorate with pumpkins, what else can you do? Try one of these fun ideas.
17. Relax With a Pumpkin Face Mask
Out late at a Halloween party? Recharge your skin with pumpkin’s good-for-you vitamins A, C and E.
18. Build a Pumpkin Catapult
If you’d rather throw your pumpkin than eat it or decorate with it, try building a pumpkin catapult or trebuchet. This is not as quick and easy as most of our suggestions so far, but it could make for some good family bonding time out in the driveway.
19. Transform a Pumpkin Into a Canvas
Pumpkin painting is a great chance for kids to have fun creating art with pumpkins, especially if they’re a little young for carving tools.
All you need is some butcher or craft paper, a few paper plates and washable paint. Or get a little more creative — The Artful Parent explains the details.
20. Save the Seeds
Not a fan of eating the seeds? Instead, hold onto them to plant in your garden next spring. Kids will enjoy watering the seeds and think they’ve seen a magical trick when those little leaves start to sprout.
Growing your own pumpkins will save you money — and let you enjoy even more homemade treats next year.
21. Compost Your Pumpkin
At the very least, your leftover pumpkin can help you grow an incredible garden next year. Cut it into smaller pieces and toss it in the compost pile, then mix it into your soil next spring.
Contributor Katherine Snow Smith is a veteran newspaper reporter and editor who covers lifestyle topics, workplace issues and ways to make money for The Penny Hoarder. She is the author of “Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.”
Former Penny Hoarder staffer Heather van der Hoop contributed to this report.