Creative Reuse Food & Drink Lawn & Garden

It’s the Great Pumpkin Waste, Charlie Brown! How to Reuse Every Bit of a Real Pumpkin

Fresh, whole pumpkins have been everywhere this month—on doorsteps, in massive displays at botanical gardens and festivals, decorating buildings—but what happens to them next week, when the calendar turns to November? I save my small, indoor ones (as well as the uncarved outdoor ones) to use in fall decorating at least a few more weeks, but so many people start turning their thoughts to December holiday decorating as soon as the last piece of trick-or-treat candy gets handed out, and pumpkins suddenly become passé. I hate the thought of just throwing all those beautiful, natural “gourds” into trash bags (yep, pumpkins are considered to be gourds…and squash), only to take up yards and yards of space in a landfill (probably more like miles and miles). Especially when “pumpkin possibilities” are endless—each year, I find out about new ones.  Here are what I consider to be the best reuse options so far—some that involve cooking, and some that don’t, some I’ve tried, and some I haven’t… yet:


  1. Roast the seeds in the oven after scooping them out, rinsing and drying. Put plain, unsalted, roasted seeds in a bird feeder to treat your feathered friends, or oil up and spice up the seeds prior to roasting for a fantastic snack for you and your human friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the roasted pumpkin seeds I made last year were one of the best snacks I’ve ever eaten.  I used a mixture that included chili powder and salt, and I’m hoping I can repeat the magic this year. (Don’t forget to consider one of these eco-friendly ways to “line the pan” when roasting.) Another option for the seeds, after scooping them out, rinsing and drying: put in reusable zipper storage bags and save for planting next year to grow your own pumpkins! (Packets of the seeds make a nice gift for a garden enthusiast, along with some gloves and a trowel…)
  2. After the fibrous “strings” and seeds have been extracted, cut a pumpkin in half or thirds and make pumpkin puree out of the pulp (or “meat”), which you can freeze and use later to make any number of things, from pie, cookies and other desserts to more savory options like hummus and pasta. (Fun fact: It also can be used year-round in “non-pumpkin” recipes as a fat substitute!) I made puree last year and froze it in reusable freezer bags; it was very easy to do, pretty much just bake, cool, scrape from the skin and then puree in a food processor.
  3. Cut up remaining pumpkin pieces, dry out a bit, and then break or cut them up into smaller pieces and, along with the stem, throw in a compost bin or pile. This is a great option for a carved, even rotting “jack-o-lantern,” as long as the pumpkin does not have paint, glue or glitter on it. (A cut-up pumpkin was what started my current composting adventure!) Or, put into a food scrap container to give to a commercial compost collector—as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there are “concierge composting” companies that will pick these up food scraps at your doorstep, and/or that have drop-off sites, and they make compost that is used by local farmers (one example is Dallas company TURN).
  4. Turn a hollowed-out pumpkin into a vase/table centerpiece with flowers, or preserve it and create “gourd art.” Who knew that was a “thing?” Well, it is, and it’s a pretty widespread art form. And the end result is not just something you’d display in the fall, or for Halloween. I’m talking about beautiful, intricately carved and painted bowls, vessels and other pieces. (Learn about and see more examples here and here.)
  5. Donate whole, undecorated, unpainted pumpkins to a local zoo, farm or exotic animal sanctuary. Some farmers welcome pumpkins to use as livestock feed; many zoos and animal sanctuaries use them for animal playtime/enrichment as well as food. Elephants love to stomp on them and eat them; lions and tigers bat them around like balls; tortoises, birds, gorillas and so many more animals love them, too. Often, the “stomping of the pumpkins” or “rolling of the pumpkins” is a public event at zoos and sanctuaries. What a great activity to do with a child, to show the child about reuse and donation, then come back later to watch the fun. (Once you’ve found a place, call to make sure they are still accepting donations!)

Happy Halloween Reuse!