[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]
"Jeff, can't we at least celebrate the holiday before you eat the decorations?" I've heard that more than once from my long-suffering wife during our 26-year marriage.
You see, cheapskates like to celebrate Halloween and other holidays just like everyone else. But we grimace at wasteful rituals like throwing away a perfectly good pumpkin after using it for only a few days as a decoration. Americans buy more than one billion pounds of pumpkins at Halloween, and the vast majority of those end up in the trash. But at the Green Cheapskate's house, we eat our jack-o-lantern, every last bit of it.
While some particularly meaty varieties of pumpkins are specifically grown to be eaten (including Sweet Jack-be-Littles, Cheese Pumpkins, Sugar Pumpkins and some delicious heirloom varieties), any commonly available pumpkin is perfectly edible. Best of all, at Halloween (and immediately after Halloween) you can usually buy pumpkins for less than half a buck a pound. At that price, why not pick up a couple extra just to eat?
Pumpkins are a true American vegetable, a favorite of the Aztec, Inca and Mayan people before becoming a staple of early European explorers and settlers in the New World. Pumpkins belong to the same family (Cucurbitacae) as gourds, melons and cucumbers. And, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, pumpkins are packed with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer.
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. So, here's how to eat your jack-o-lantern:
Toasted pumpkin seeds are a healthy snack filled with zinc, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and protein. They're also great in salads, muffins, bread, and in other recipes as a nut substitute.
Remove the seeds, rinse them in water to get rid of the stringy inner membrane, and dry them out a little on a towel. Flavor with coarse salt for a traditional taste, or let your imagination and spice rack run wild. Some options for flavoring designer seeds include: pumpkin pie spice; Cajun seasonings; ginger powder; garlic salt; curry powder; Tabasco; cinnamon; vinegar and salt. Once seasoned, 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, my preferred method is to cook them in a spray-oiled skillet over medium heat on the stove top, stirring and shaking (the skillet, not your booty) constantly. On the stove top, they'll be toasted nicely brown in only about five minutes. Store in air-tight containers.
The Meat of the Matter
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 it 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 get double duty out of your pumpkin as a lantern, then it's easier to 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 water until it's tender (about 30 minutes or more). Run it through a food processor to puree or mash by hand (add a dash of lemon juice to prevent freezer burn), and freeze it in plastic bags or containers to use later in your favorite recipes. You can also eat the cooked pulp just like squash, but it's even better than squash. Here are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes:
Pumpkin Cider Bisque:
Make a cream soup by melting two tablespoons butter and mixing in 2 tablespoon flour, and then slowly stir in 2 cups of whole milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened. Add one cup pumpkin puree (see above), and heat through. Slowly add 2 cups cider. Correct seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, or cold with apple slices to garnish. (4 servings / approx. cost per serving = 30 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 / approx. cost per serving =35 cents)
The Green Cheapskate's salute to cosmetic surgery -- truly tongue AND cheek, but pretty tasty. Save the cut-out nose, mouth, eyes, etc. from your jack-o'-lantern carving to decorate this face-shaped casserole. Fry one pound of sausage and one cup of chopped onion on the stovetop until brown. Add two cups of cubed, raw pumpkin pulp (you can get about that much by cutting the pulp off from the bottom of your jack-o'-lantern lid). Cook it for about 5 minutes, until the pumpkin starts to soften.
Stir in one can of condensed Cheddar cheese soup and 1/4 cup milk, and remove from heat. Grease a round or oval casserole baking dish (about face size). In the empty dish, mix two cups Bisquick mix with 3/4 cup water, spreading the dough evenly on the bottom of the dish. Pour meat mixture on top of dough. Sprinkle one cup shredded Cheddar cheese on top of casserole. Spray "face parts" lightly with spray oil, and arrange on top of casserole. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until face parts are lightly brown and the dough has cooked through. (6 servings / approx. cost per serving = 60 cents)
Truly Smashing 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. I'm told by Miser Adviser Doris Sharp that this dish is particularly popular in Northern Germany. Here's how:
Peel off the outer skin and cut the white-colored rind (about 1 inch thick) into two inch squares. For each pound of pumpkin, use 3/4 lb sugar, 2 cups vinegar and a piece of fresh ginger. Use a stick of cinnamon for the whole batch of several pounds. Put pumpkin in vinegar and let it soak overnight. Remove the pumpkin from vinegar (discard*) and let it dry on a towel. Bring fresh vinegar to a boil with sugar, ginger and a stick of cinnamon. Add pumpkin and simmer until 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, let alone spent vinegar, and wonders if it couldn't instead be used to clean some windows.)