Here's what to do with your Halloween pumpkin

Here's what to do with your Halloween pumpkin
Herb Broda

Pumpkins are certainly valued as both a symbol of fall and as a huge cash crop. It’s estimated more than 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins will be purchased in the U.S. during this fall season.


Pumpkins are an odd food crop. Huge amounts are grown, but a large percentage is never eaten.

But pumpkins are certainly valued as both a symbol of fall and as a huge cash crop. It’s estimated more than 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins will be purchased in the U.S. during this fall season.

A short drive in our readership area takes you by small farm stands featuring lots of pumpkins, but the big show is at the Mt. Hope Farmer’s Produce Auction. Beginning in late August, large cardboard bins of pumpkins fill the auction grounds. Over 12,000 pumpkins are often sold on any of the 12 auction days in September with pumpkin sales continuing into October.

The auction is an important part of the local economy because it provides a market for small local farms to sell produce quickly and efficiently throughout the growing season. Approximately 95% of the produce comes from local growers in Holmes and Wayne counties. Many local stores purchase their pumpkins and other produce at the auction.

But what happens to the nearly 200,000 pumpkins that will be sold in Mt. Hope this fall? Probably much the same that happens to the 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins sold across the U.S.

Locally, about one-third of pumpkins are used for food. Nationally, over 50% are used for pies and other processed foods. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, “Libby’s have almost 90% of the North American market for canned pumpkin with 90% of it sold in only four months, from October to January.”

Libby’s even developed its own strain of pumpkin. The Dickinson pumpkin doesn’t look like a jack-o'-lantern type but was developed to maximize flavor. Libby’s grows these pumpkins on thousands of acres in Central Illinois, making it the top pumpkin-producing state in the U.S.

After subtracting the number used for food, there still are over 140 million pumpkins in the U.S. that are sold primarily for decorative purposes. That raises an interesting question: What do you do with all those pumpkins after Halloween?

A carved pumpkin doesn’t last long after the Halloween costumes are put away. It quietly deteriorates into a moldy, methane-producing blob that is frequently tossed into the trash and headed for the landfill.

Of course, uncarved pumpkins last longer, but their fate is ultimately the same. It just takes more time and can be an unexpected, nasty, squishy surprise.

Sending pumpkins to the landfill is really unnecessary. The National Wildlife Federation provides some great alternatives to tossing pumpkins in the trash.

Compost your pumpkins. They are 90% water and break down very easily. Remove the seeds so you don’t turn your compost pile into a future pumpkin patch.

If you are going to compost the pumpkins, scoop out and save the seeds for the birds. Let the seeds dry and then place them on a tray or feeding platform. Save some seeds to plant a new crop next year.

Recycle pumpkins by cutting them into chunks and leaving them out for backyard critters. Many visitors like deer, rabbits, moles, mice, chipmunks, squirrels and woodchucks will enjoy the unexpected treat.

Another great idea from the folks at NWF is to make a snack-o'-lantern. Uncarved decorative pumpkins can be scooped out and filled with birdseed. Find some sturdy cord and hang it in a tree for the birds — and the squirrels. You also can fill a carved pumpkin with seeds if the smile isn’t too broad.

If you have pumpkins that are whole, uncarved and undamaged, consider using them in a recipe. The internet has lots of innovative recipes like pumpkin waffles, curried pumpkin soup, and pumpkin mac and cheese.

However, do not use a carved jack-o'-lantern for food. Carved pumpkins have been exposed to air and bacteria, which quickly creates a perfect place for growing mold.

Because most carving pumpkins are not very tasty, the safest bet, and the tastier option, is to use smaller pie pumpkins for cooking. These often have been hybridized for traits that make for better cooking and eating.

At the very least, save the seeds. Lightly seasoned and then toasted, they are a tasty celebration of fall.

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