Beyond Jack-O’-Lanterns: 21 Creative and Tasty Ways to Use Pumpkins

Pumpkins are photographed from above with a blue background.
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It’s the season of the pumpkin and there are so many uses for these oversized orange gourds beyond a toothy jack-o’-lantern. (Yes, pumpkins hail from the gourd family.)

By no means are we suggesting you skip the time-honored tradition of carving that happy or scary face into a hollowed-out pumpkin. Carve diem. Seize the pumpkin. After all, they are at their cheapest this time of year.

When grocery stores and farmers markets are full of pumpkins this time of year, buy two. Carve one and save the other for one of our 21 uses for pumpkin. You can use one pumpkin for toasted seeds, pie and maybe even soup, depending on how big it is.

Pumpkins: They Aren’t Just For Jack-O’-Lanterns Anymore

Whether it becomes a tasty snack, home decor or a science project, your pumpkin has endless possibilities. While true penny hoarders like the idea of repurposing carved pumpkin after halloween, it’s not the best idea. In the warmer Southern states, it’s likely the pumpkin is mushy and well-past its prime after being exposed to the elements for a week or more. Plug, bugs.

Eat Your Pumpkin

We found 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. They do have thinner skin, though, which makes them easier to carve.

Pro Tip

You’ll find the best prices for pumpkins at farmers markets, independent seasonal stands and church pumpkin patches. The average pumpkin costs about $3 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 a versatile use of fresh pumpkin.

It’s incredibly versatile: You’ll be able to use the puree in pumpkin muffins, breads and soups — even a delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Pumpkin puree is the base for most of the delicious dishes on this list.

Creating the puree is simple: Boil, bake or steam your pumpkin, according to Good Housekeeping. If you are in a cold climate and your carved pumpkin is still good enough to ease, make sure to cut off and discard any burned sections or leftover wax if you lit it with a candle.

The puree freezes well for future use. Store it in zip-closure freezer bags, filled and partially flattened for easy stacking.

2.  Brew Pumpkin Spice Latte

Tempted by the versions offered at seemingly every coffee shop? Instead of dropping $5 on a pumpkin latte that may not contain any pumpkin at all, make your own.

There are plenty of recipes for making your own. Here is a favorite.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup milk, ideally 2%, for the latte (if you’re making cafe au lait, 1/2 cup milk will give you a 2:1 coffee/milk ratio)
  • 1 espresso shot for the latte (or 1 cup drip coffee)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mixture (or mix your own with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg blend)
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: cinnamon sticks and/or maple pumpkin butter as garnish

Measure and pour milk into a saucepan on your stove. Add in pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, pumpkin puree and vanilla extract. Stir well. Heat the mixture on medium/hot heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, brew coffee or espresso. For cafe au lait, use  a pumpkin spice blend such as one from Dunkin’ Donuts or Trader Joe’s.

Remove milk from the stovetop once it’s hot, just about to boil,  and use a milk frother to froth it. The mixture should double in size and create a nice foam. If you don’t have a frother, you can find one online for less than $20 (such as this one) or use your blender.

Once milk is frothed, combine in a mug with espresso or coffee. Garnish with pumpkin pie spice. If you’d like, add a cinnamon stick or drizzle with a bit of maple pumpkin butter.

A pumpkin beer sits by two pumpkins.
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3. Enjoy a Pumpkin Cocktail or Pumpkin Beer

For those looking for something a little stronger than a latte, leave it to Ree Drummond, the Food Network’s Pioneer Woman, to come up with 15 cocktails that include pumpkin as a key ingredient.

4. Bake a Pumpkin Lasagna

Need a fall dinner idea for the family or company? 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 all year if you freeze extra pumpkin puree.

Check out this simple Pumpkin Butter 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 — dry out the seeds and bake them on a baking sheet with olive oil and salt — but play with toppings to find one that works for you: salt and pepper, chili powder or cinnamon are all good options. The most difficult thing about making them is getting rid of the clingy strings after you dig them from the pumpkin.

Here’s one of many recipes out there in the pumpkinverse.

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 (carrot tops, 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 for pumpkin bread from Diana Johnson of Eating Richly. She calculates that making two loaves costs about $2.

9. Cook Pumpkin Risotto

Another way to put those guts to use: pumpkin risotto. Scroll down to find the recipe for this delicious Pumpkin Risotto, which 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, make Pickled Sugar Pumpkin from Serious Eats.

Looking for something with a little more kick? Try these South Indian pumpkin pickles from Promenade Plantings.

11. Dry Pumpkin Skin into Chips

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the skin of the pumpkin.

Here is a great way to make Pumpkin Crisps that burst with color, crispness and flavor.

Decorate With Pumpkins

You can’t go wrong with pumpkins in your decor all the way through Thanksgiving. Try one or all of these throughout the season.

12. Use Pumpkins as Serving Bowls

File this idea under “brilliant:” 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

Perhaps even the birds like to celebrate a change of season with different decor.Offer them a new dining room and make our neighbors smile with this simple bird feeder from Instructables.

People enjoy a thanksgiving meal with pumpkins on the table as decoration.
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15.  Decorate the 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. In their natural orange, they are warm and traditional. Spray paint them white and pumpkins become elegant and fairy tale like.

Your pumpkins will make it to Thanksgiving, as long as you choose wisely. An uncarved, healthy pumpkin “can last 8 to 12 weeks,” Cornell University horticulturalist Steve Reiners told NPR.

16. Make Pumpkin Snowmen

Why not try this cute, crafty way to give some post-fall purpose to your pumpkins. You’ll get an early start on your winter decorating — or if you’re feeling entrepreneurial, you could even try selling your creations.

Get Creative

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.

You’ll only need to add honey and milk, according to this simple recipe from Beautylish. Add these non-pumpkin ways to your list of ways to  to save money with DIY beauty products!

18. Build a Pumpkin Catapult

Here’s a great way to get a final use out of the smoke-singed, smelly carved pumpkin that weathered the heat or cold on your front step. Build a pumpkin catapult, also known as a trebuchet.

(Just make sure you have enough wide open space.)

19. Transform a Pumpkin Into a Canvas

This is a great chance for kids to have fun creating art with pumpkins, especially if they’re a little young for carving tools.

The best part? All you need is some butcher or craft paper, a few paper plates, stickers or paint. The Artful Parent offers plenty of  the details. Decorating the pumpkin without carving it keeps it in good shape to cook with.

20. Save the Seeds

Not a fan of eating the seeds? Instead, hold onto them to plant in your garden next spring.

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.

Former Penny Hoarder staffers Heather van der Hoop and Katherine Snow Smith contributed to this report. 


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