It’s almost pumpkin season! Pumpkins are such a fun, festive way to decorate your home in the fall. But it feels like such a waste to throw them out at the end of the season — especially if they’re still firm and fresh.
Luckily, there are lots of ways you can give those fall pumpkins a second life that doesn’t involve the landfill.
How you re-use your pumpkins will depend on what kind of pumpkins you have. The giant carving pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns have thin skin and tough, bland flesh. Plus, carving them leads to rot. So these pumpkins are usually best for non-food uses.
But smaller pumpkins (aka sugar pumpkins) can be piled in a bowl for festive fall color, and then re-used in some tasty recipes! They’re usually found in the produce section of your grocery store or at a farm stand. They have sweeter insides and they’re less grainy — perfect for cooking.
So here are some handy uses for both carving and cooking pumpkins!
Uses for Carved Pumpkins
1. Feed the fauna
As the temperatures cool, food can become scarce for our outdoor friends. But many of them really like a bit of chopped pumpkin. Deer, squirrels, and rabbits will all appreciate a fall feast.
You can also turn your pumpkin into a natural bird feeder. Cut the top off and fill it up with birdseed. Then hang it from a tree in your backyard. Make sure to keep an eye on it though. Once it starts to rot, you’ll want to take it down so the birds don’t get sick.
2. Turn it into a planter
If you painted your pumpkin or did a surface-level etching rather than a full carving, why not use your pumpkin as a fall planter? Expand the opening if necessary, and fill it with soil. Plant some fall annuals for a pop of color on the porch.
3. Put it on your face
Seriously! Pumpkin is full of antioxidants and zinc, plus vitamins C, E, and A. It can make a great hydrating addition to an at-home face mask.
First, make a pumpkin puree by cutting your pumpkin into pieces and roasting until soft. Once it’s cooled, blend in a food processor until it’s smooth.
Add an egg and apple cider vinegar to your puree, and let the natural ingredients work their magic!
4. Compost it
Fresh pumpkin can make a great addition to your garden. You can cut the pumpkin into bits and bury it right in your flower beds to let the slow decay feed your soil. Or chop it up and put it in your compost heap. It will break down relatively quickly, adding nutrients to your pile in time for spring planting.
If you don’t have a home compost pile, see if your town has a city composting program that would take your pumpkin.
You should make sure the seeds are removed before burying or composting your pumpkin. The seeds can germinate and begin to grow, which you don’t want to happen in your flower bed!
5. Make a stock
The tough fibers and lack of sweetness from a carving pumpkin will actually work to your advantage if you want to make homemade stock.
To make, you can use the stringy bits or the pumpkin flesh, or both. For the stringy parts, wrap them up in some cheesecloth and tie it off with a string. For the flesh, cut it into chunks. Then throw it all in a large soup pot along with carrots, onion, celery, garlic, and any other veggie bits you have laying around. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the veggies, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
When it’s done, you’ll have a healthy and rich veggie stock, perfect for fall soups and stews. Just make sure to only do this with a firm pumpkin that hasn’t begun to decay. Ideally, the pumpkin you use for stock would have only been carved a day or two before use.
Uses for Sugar Pumpkins
6. Make DIY pumpkin spice lattes
If you have those tasty eatin’ pumpkins, there are so many great ways to use them up! To start, how about your own pumpkin spice latte? Unlike the major coffee shop versions, this one would actually contain pumpkin.
A little pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla, coffee, and pumpkin pie spice come together in an easy stove-top recipe that looks even better than the store-bought version.
7. Bake some pumpkin bread
Most pumpkin bread recipes call for canned pumpkin. But with a little homemade pumpkin puree, you can substitute it out for a truly from-scratch loaf.
Pumpkin bread is dense and moist, a bit like banana bread in texture. You can make strictly sweet versions, or add a bit of ginger for a spicy kick. There aren’t many better smells on a chilly fall day than something baking.
8. Give the gift of pumpkin butter
If you have lots of pumpkins and don’t know how you’re going to get through them all, how about using them to make a gift?
Homemade pumpkin butter will impress all of your friends this fall. Pumpkin puree is sweetened and spiced, making a perfect spread for bread, waffles, pancakes, or to mix in with oatmeal. Fill several jars, tie them up with a ribbon, and hand them out to your favorite people.
9. Blend up some savory pumpkin soup
We usually think of pumpkin as an ingredient in sweet dishes, but it can be used for savory recipes as well, like homemade pumpkin soup. You can use your homemade stock (#5) as a base, or go with a store-bought brand. Add spices like turmeric, ginger, and curry for an Indian-style soup. Or add jalapeno and cumin for a delicious Southwestern soup. Blend it all together with an immersion blender for a creamy creation. Great for warming up on a cool day!
10. Stuff your pumpkins
Like acorn squash, smaller pumpkins make great boats for stuffing and roasting — and they look very impressive!
Cut the tops off your smaller pumpkins and hollow them out. Fill them up with goodies like ground beef and rice for a filling and savory meal!
Don’t let your fall decor go to waste. Buy once, use twice! (Or even three times — from carving to squirrel feeder to compost bin!)
Just remember — once it starts to rot, it’s not good for much but the compost heap. So make sure to use it while it’s still good!