Jack o lantern pumpkin recipes – yes you can eat Halloween pumpkins!

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girl lighting candle inside a jack-o-lantern

No doubt you’ll have bought pumpkins to carve for Halloween at some point in your life but have you ever wondered whether the insides are edible and if so what you can do with them?

In the UK, 95% of all pumpkins that are grown locally, are turned into Halloween lanterns. 

And a staggering 8 million pumpkins are thrown away each year after Halloween.[1]
 

And yet, these fruits are perfectly edible, but not many people know that.

To me, chucking away food is a dreadful waste. But I honestly don’t think people see Halloween pumpkins as food.

In this blog I’m hoping to change that by telling you all about the awesome benefits of the inside of a Jack-o’-lantern and share some yummy recipes too.

woman holding cut up chunks of pumpkin with seeds in a bowl

What parts of the pumpkin can you eat? 

Did you know that just about every part of the pumpkin is edible? Ok so you might not want to eat the woody stalk but it’s quite alright to eat the seeds, and skin as well as the flesh that’s usually scooped out and discarded.

Both the seeds and the skin are best roasted in the oven and the fleshy part can be steamed, boiled or roasted or even baked into cakes!

The skin actually crisps up beautifully, if drizzled in oil and roasted in a hot oven, it makes for a really nice texture and adds interest to salads and risottos. 

When it comes to the seeds, my advice would be to rinse well and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil and some warming spices such as paprika, or cumin, then spread in a single layer on a baking tray and roast in the oven at 180 degrees for 10 to 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden. 

pumpkin being mashed in a saucepan

What do they taste like?

Halloween Pumpkins are milder in flavour than pumpkins that are grown for food, and that’s because they’re grown for their size, rather than their flavour.  Pumpkin growers know that they’re likely to be carved then discarded and so they are not engineered for flavour. 

Because of their mild taste, they will take on the flavour of other foods in a dish, so my suggestion is to add pumpkin to dishes with bold flavours such as curries, a veggie chilli or a smoky winter stew. 

And another benefit to their mildness is their versatility, meaning that you can make sweet dishes with leftover pumpkin flesh too. Pumpkin pie anyone?

I’ve listed my top 10 favourite recipes for leftover pumpkin below and there are a mixture of both sweet and savoury options.

How to store leftover pumpkin?

What happens if you’ve got a load of pumpkin leftovers, maybe you had a Halloween party or you’re a large family where everyone wanted to carve their own Jack-o’-lantern?

Good news! Pumpkin can also be frozen. 

My advice would be to cube up the fleshy parts and par boil it. And then once it has cooled to room temperature you can freeze in biodegradable freezer bags.
 

Frozen pumpkin won’t spoil, you can keep it in your freezer indefinitely. However, after three months or so you may notice frost beginning to build up which may affect its quality, so using it within a 3 month window is a good idea. 

slices of pumpkin on a baking tray sprinkled with herbs

How to reheat frozen pumpkin

Pumpkin chunks are best cooked from frozen. Simply coat in olive oil, sprinkle on your favourite herbs and spices and roast in the oven at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your cubes.

You can also steam from frozen, (although because they have a high water content they may go a bit soggy), then mash with the back of a fork, this works beautifully if you plan on stirring  through a risotto. 

Alternatively chuck a handful of frozen pumpkin cubes directly into a casserole or stew and let it slow cook with the rest of the dish.

What else can you do with leftover pumpkin?

Not keen on eating pumpkin but you can’t bear the idea of leftover jack-o-lanterns going to landfill? Here’s a couple of further ideas.

Enrich your compost. 

Because pumpkin is nutrient rich, it will really boost the quality of your compost. Scoop out the seeds and put to one side. You don’t want to add these into the compost heap (unless you are planning on growing your own pumpkins for next Halloween).[2]

Smash up your pumpkins, strangely children of all ages seem to love this part, then chuck on your compost heap. 

Because it’s a fruit with a high water content, it will compost down relatively quickly providing you with lots of lovely nutritious garden food for the next growing season.

pumpkin seeds in a bowl

Grow your own

If you save the seeds, why not try growing your own pumpkins next year? Wash away any fleshy bits from the seed, pat try on kitchen roll and let them dry out completely on a sunny windowsill till you are ready to plant in May next year. You’ll need to sow indoors initially and then plant outside once they have started to shoot.[3]

Feed the birds

Pumpkins make a novel bird feeder, simply pack in a load of bird seed mixed with a hard fat like lard and hang in the trees. You may want to carve a few additional holes around the pumpkin so that the birds have easy access.[4]

And of course the seeds make great bird food too.

toddler eating pumpkin soup

Is pumpkin good for you? 

Different parts of the pumpkin contain different nutrients.

The fleshy insides are high in water and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in Vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and beta carotene which is converted into vitamin A.

Children need a fair amount of these nutrients and in fact in the UK it’s recommended that children are supplemented in vitamins A and C because it’s feared they don’t get enough through their diets, so eating pumpkin is a great way to ensure a nutritional top up.

A lot of the same nutrients are found in the skin, but because there is less water here it means a higher concentration of those nutrients.  And the skin is also a good source of fibre, which is good for our bowels.

And the pumpkin seeds, these are amazingly nutrient dense. They too are high in fibre, and they also contain protein, as well as iron, another critical nutrient for children. But the seeds are also a natural source of tryptophan, the amino acid that is a building block of the sleepy hormone melatonin, so eating pumpkin seeds may help improve sleep (although you’d have to eat an awful lot of them).

Recipes

Pumpkin is basically a winter squash from the same family as cucumbers or melons (and technically a fruit), therefore, you can use it in cooking in exactly the same way as you would use butternut squash. Here are a few of my favourites. 

Beef, beer and pumpkin stew

OMG this is my kind of slow cooker comfort food, perfect after a day doing chores. Just imagine coming home after the school run to the delicious smell of a beef stew cooking. Yum!

Pumpkin hummus

This one is super easy and much lower in salt than shop bought hummus.

Spicy butterbean and chickpea stew

This recipe calls for butternut squash, simply replace with pumpkin. A vegan version of that hearty winter casserole.

Pumpkin and coconut curry

One of my favourite Jamie Oliver recipes. He describes this one as being perfect for bonfire night. Perfect timing!

Pumpkin with smoky bean chilli

I couldn’t not include this one as it’s so beautiful with the chilli presented inside a pumpkin! Ok probably not the best for a jack-o-lantern – (otherwise the chilli will be ghoulishly pouring from the eyes and mouth) but if you bought one too many pumpkins, this is a fab recipe to try.

Pumpkin pie

A US classic but not very well known (yet) in the UK. It’s delicious…one to try!

Spiced pumpkin loaf

This is really a cake rather than a bread but so delicious. Where it calls for canned pumpkin, just replace with the same amount of fresh pumpkin but steam or microwave first so it mashes down with the back of a fork.

Pumpkin spiced latte

This one is for the grown ups, I’ve always wondered if there is actually pumpkin in these…well Jamie tells us that yes, there is (but unfortunately it doesn’t count as one of your 5 a day)

Spiced pumpkin seeds

I love the warmth of cumin and paprika and so this simple recipe from Tesco is a winner. Leave out the sprinkle of salt if you’re sharing with the children.

Pumpkin & ginger soup

What I love about this recipe is the spider web effect you can make across the top with cream! Switch the stock for a lower salt option to make this recipe healthier.

mother hugging her daughter and carving pumpkin together

If you love these ideas, did you know that you can get a brand new nutritionally balanced menu every single week inside the Happy Healthy Eaters Club?

My team of Registered Dietitians and I have cleverly curated recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus two snacks, so that you can be assured that they meet your child’s nutritional requirements and still be healthy and nutritious for the rest of the family.

Designed to take the stress out of thinking up what to cook or making different meals for everyone and to stop you from staring at an open fridge wondering what to make for dinner tonight!

Imagine that, one family meal for all!

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Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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