A Pile of PumpkinsWhen we think of pumpkins, we think of Halloween, Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin pie, and maybe Thanksgiving.

But, truth be told, there are plenty of ways to use a pumpkin!

During October, pumpkins are abundant.  Sometimes, too abundant.  And it’s not uncommon to see excess pumpkins cast aside or left to rot after Halloween, but there’s really no need to let the extras go to waste.

The following are just a few of the great uses for pumpkins:

1. Pumpkins in Recipes

As food, pumpkins are low in calories, yet high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, protein, and potassium.  Dig out your favorite cookbook and search for recipes containing pumpkin.

Pumpkin bread, pies, and muffins are favorites, but you can probably find plenty of others.  As an impromptu house guest in Paris, I was once served an incredible pumpkin soup (though I never completed my search for that recipe).  There are more exotic recipes to try as well – pumpkin juice, pumpkin ice cream, and even fried pumpkin.

2. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds (also called “pepitas”) are also known to be highly nutritious, and are used in weight-loss diets.  They provide fiber, healthy fats, and protein, as well as minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, and copper.  They are also known to strengthen the immune system, and to be good for people with high cholesterol.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make excellent between-meals snacks, can be sprinkled over a holiday squash soup, and are a favorite in Mexican cooking.  Candied pumpkin seeds are great for parties as well – and even the children might accept them among their Halloween candy.

3. Pumpkin for Pets

Mashed pumpkin is a great remedy for digestive trouble in dogs.  It can be used to combat weight gain or diarrhea, and for resistance to infections.  It is also said to be good for a dog’s night vision and general health.

Simply add a few spoons of cooked, mashed pumpkin to the dog’s food.  (Important: it must be pure mashed pumpkin, not a mix!)  For instructions on how to create your own mashed pumpkin, see #4 below.

Cats may like pumpkin as well, and it can be given to help cats with similar digestive troubles, as well as hairballs.

Remember, if your pet is sick, take him to the vet!  And ask your vet about using pumpkin as a home remedy.

4. Saving Pumpkins for Later

If you have more pumpkin than you know what to do with, you can save it for later use in recipes and for winter holidays.

There are several ways to create pumpkin puree which can be frozen for later use.  The following are three preparation methods:

1.  Baking – Cut the pumpkin in half, place it on a baking sheet with the flat side down, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, for about an hour, or until it is tender when tested with a fork.

2.  Microwave – Follow the same procedure as above, but instead of placing the pumpkin in an oven, microwave it on high for about 15 minutes, or until it is tender.

3.  Boiling – Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse.  Then, place the chunks in a large pot, cover with water (fully immersing the pumpkins, plus one inch of water on top), and boil until tender.

Once you have utilized one of the above methods to soften the pumpkin, cool it off, peel it, and mash it in a food processor.  You can also use a potato masher or similar device.

Then, simply seal the puree into zip lock bags, or whatever is convenient, and freeze it for for the winter.  The puree can be used as a substitute for canned pumpkin, in any recipe.

5. Pumpkins as Dishes

You can clean a pumpkin well, cut it in half, and dry it for use as a serving bowl or flower vase. You can also use a halved pumpkin to cook or bake other foods in.

6. Pumpkins for the Skin

Pumpkins contain anti-oxidants and alpha-hydroxy, which are said to be good for the skin.  You can use pumpkin peels as a facial, to combat aging or other skin problems.

7. Pumpkins for Children and Games

You can use pumpkins for children’s drawing or carving contests.  If your kids are too little to start carving yet, they can also decorate pumpkins with markers or paint – or even a pumpkin collage.  Another use of pumpkins is as targets for archery practice.

But we definitely don’t recommend any games that involve throwing pumpkins, nor using them as substitutes for soccer balls.

And, possibly even better, how about a cross between a Jack-O-Lantern, a Snow Man, and a Scare Crow?  Your kids might have a great time making a pumpkin man – and it’s much better for them than watching TV.

8. Pumpkins as Ornaments

Pumpkins, gourds, and squash can be used to create candle holders, Thanksgiving centerpieces, and other ornaments.

9. Musical Pumpkins

Yes, that’s right, pumpkins make great musical instruments as well.  Or, at least they can if you know how to make (and play) them.  You can see and hear a variety of ideas for instruments that can be made from gourds, squashes, and pumpkins. Although many instruments are made from gourds, one can easily imagine how a large or small pumpkin would do just as well in several cases.

10. Pumpkins for Crafts

If you are an experienced craftsman or devout hobbyist, you might try some more advanced and creative uses of pumpkins.  You can make pumpkin leather like the American Indians did, or settle with a simple pumpkin bird house.

As you can see, there’s really no need for pumpkins to go to waste, either before Halloween or afterwards.

During economic recessions, it’s not uncommon that people have more time on their hands than they have money.  Instead of letting extra pumpkins go to waste, these are a few ways you can stretch your grocery budget a bit further, invest some time in your health, get your kids away from the screen, and have some fun at the same time.