Autumn is the season when pumpkins are ripe for the picking, and thousands of people flock to local farms and roadside vendors to select perfect pumpkins. Many pumpkins are turned into decorative jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween, only to be tossed in the trash come November 1. That could be because many people are unaware of the various ways they can put pumpkins to good use.
Pumpkins are gourds and members of the squash family and have been grown and used for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that pumpkins date back to 7000 B.C., possibly originating in Mexico. Today they are widely used for decorating around Halloween, but there are many other things that can be done with pumpkins.
* Create a food vessel. Pumpkins can be transformed into bowls to hold soup, punch, fruit, or even dips. Make sure the pumpkin has been cleaned well of its pulp and seeds, as well as the stringy flesh that is inside. Rub the inside walls of the pumpkin with oil to keep them from drying out and caving in, then fill with your food of choice.
* Make pumpkin puree. Puree from a pumpkin can be used in all types of recipes, from soups to baked goods. The puree also can replace the oil in cake recipes. Cut the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy membranes. Then place it cut-side-down in a pan with a little water in the bottom. Bake at 350 F for around 90 minutes. The flesh will become tender and easily removable. Blend the resulting puree in a food processor and reserve flesh for recipes. Some pumpkins are sweeter or better to use as part of recipes. Check the variety you're purchasing.
* Whip up a facial. Use some pumpkin puree with a little brown sugar and a dash of milk to create a vitamin-rich facial mask.
* Get illuminated. Turn hollowed-out mini pumpkins into candles. Melt soy wax, beeswax or the gel type of candle wax that can be found at most craft stores. Add your favorite scent and place a wick into the bottom of the pumpkin. Then pour the wax into hallowed-out space and allow it to harden. Try the same thing with bumpy and multi-colored gourds for added decorating appeal.
* Turn the pumpkin into a flower pot. Fill a hollow pumpkin with soil. You may not have to worry about scraping the pumpkin completely clean because the pulp can be used to help fertilize the potting soil. Plant your favorite fall flowers into the festive and earth-friendly flower pot. When the pumpkin shows signs of rotting, simply put the whole thing into a traditional flower pot or bury it directly in the ground.
* Make pumpkin stock. While vegetable or meat-based stocks may be the standards, pumpkin can be used to make stock as well. Clean out the seeds from the stringy guts of the pumpkin and put the guts into a pot filled with water. Add celery, carrots or any other aromatic vegetables for extra flavor. Allow to boil for at least 30 minutes. The stock is ready when it begins to change color. Strain and reserve the stock for use in a variety of recipes.