By Paul Schattenberg | Contributor
From pumpkin spice lattes to harvest-themed front porches, pumpkins are an iconic staple for the fall. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have some tips on how to use these popular gourds in and around your home.
Odessa Keenan, AgriLife Extension program coordinator for the agency’s Dinner Tonight initiative, Bryan-College Station, said pumpkins are an incredibly popular item not only for fall décor but as a key ingredient in many seasonal recipes.
Family friendly pumpkin recipes
Pumpkin puree is an easy way to utilize the pulp inside, she said. Puree can be used to make sweet treats like pies, parfaits and cookies or savory snacks like hummus.
“If you remove the seeds and pulp to cook, they should be immediately refrigerated or prepared to avoid potential food safety issues,” she noted. “Once you carve a pumpkin and leave the pulp out for more than a couple of hours, you can assume it’s not good to eat.”
The puree should be stored in the refrigerator and will likely last around four days before spoiling, she said.
“The shelf life of the pumpkin puree depends on how fresh it was from the vine when you purchased it, its current condition and any potential for bacterial exposure,” she said. “Canning the puree correctly can extend its shelf life up to four months.”
Cooking and roasting pumpkin seeds
Keenan said pumpkin seeds can also make a simple and healthy seasonal treat.
“Roasting pumpkin seeds for snacking is another fun way to use your pumpkin,” she said. “You can experiment with different spice blends – savory, spicy and sweet – to find your family’s favorite. Just be sure to watch for too much added sodium or sugar.”
She said use a large spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the pulp, then separate the seeds. Put the seeds in a colander and wash them thoroughly to remove any excess pulp.
“It’s fine if there’s still a little of the pumpkin flesh on the seeds,” Keenan said.
Dry the seeds as much as possible in between paper towels or a cloth, then toss them in a bowl with cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg or whatever other type of seasoning you prefer. Spread the seeds evenly on a lightly greased cookie sheet and cook at 350 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. Toss the seeds a few times during cooking to help ensure they brown evenly. The roasted seeds are ready when they turn a golden brown.
Creative pumpkin-themed home decor
In addition to the timeliness of a Halloween jack-o’-lantern and the latest stencil carving, Keenan offers some additional décor ideas.
“Pumpkins make fantastic front porch decorations as well as great fall table arrangements,” she said. “I have also seen pumpkins used to hold flower arrangements!”
To use a pumpkin to hold your flowers, she advises that it is best to carve out just enough of the pumpkin to hold a vase. Arrange and water the flowers inside the vase to reduce the moisture level inside the pumpkin and keep some space between the pumpkin and the arrangement.
Composting and disposing of a pumpkin
When the pumpkin does ultimately decay, the leftover organic matter makes a great compost pile addition, said Joe Masabni, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Dallas.
“It’s best to either blend it or let it dry to break the rinds up into as small of pieces as possible,” he said. “The smaller the pieces, then the faster it will break down. You need to break the seeds down as well, otherwise some may germinate in your compost pile.”
Masabni said pumpkin seeds can also be saved to plant by laying them out flat to air dry on paper towels for about 24 hours. Once dry, place them in a plastic bag or store them in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place.
“Don’t heat dry them in an oven or in the sun because it could cause damage,” he said. “And mark the bag with the pumpkin variety and date.”
Masabni said if stored correctly, pumpkin seeds can last for at least five years.
Pumpkin for the birds
“Pumpkins that have been used as jack-o’-lanterns or other decorations could also be used as a snack for wildlife,” said Maureen Frank, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, Uvalde.
“If you bake pumpkin seeds, you can place them in a bird feeder and share them with your feathered friends,” Frank said. “Be sure not to add salt or any other seasoning – just use the plain seeds.”
Frank said the pumpkin itself can be used as a bird feeder and suggested following instructions from the Audubon organization.
“Other animals, such as squirrels, raccoons and deer, may be interested in pumpkin pieces, but feeding these mammals can create problems and may be against local ordinances, so it’s probably best to share with birds only,” she said.