Recycled Halloween pumpkins can be used in various ways

Skeletons, ghosts and other spooky Halloween decorations are starting to come down around campus as Thanksgiving quickly approaches. But before throwing away old jack-o’-lanterns, students can instead get one more use out of them.

The University of Illinois Extension, the University branch of the nationwide Cooperative Extension System, is an outreach effort that strives to educate the residents in Illinois’ 102 counties by offering educational programs in a variety of subject areas. The group has its own Pumpkin Fact page that states that pumpkins were previously recommended for treating snake bites and removing freckles. In addition, Native Americans used the pumpkin seeds for medicines, and used dried, flattened strips of the pumpkin to make mats.

These days, pumpkins can be used for other purposes, such as gardening, according to Chuck Voigt, vegetable and herb specialist within the University of Illinois Extension and Principal Research Specialist in Agriculture for the Department of Crop Sciences.

Voigt suggested that compost is the best option for recycling Halloween pumpkins.

“You can use the compost for fertilizer in a garden,” Voigt said. “It’s organic matter, which is what makes our soils here so nice and black.”

Voigt explained that by using the compost, the nitrogen in the pumpkin will break down quickly, which makes it good to mix in with things that break down slowly, such as dead leaves.

“It hurts when I see people putting 20 pounds of dead leaves out. You can use the pumpkin compost to break down layers of different materials,” Voigt said. “For a home owner with a backyard, it’s not a bad idea.”

Danielle Cruise, junior in Applied and Health Sciences, said that she has never considered using her Halloween pumpkins as compost, but with the addition of her family’s composter, she said she would consider using it in the future.

“We just got a composter two years ago, but since everyone in my family is grown up now, no one has carved pumpkins at home recently,” Cruise said. “But since we do have the composter, if we ever do carve pumpkins, we can use it in the future to recycle the pumpkins.”

Just as pumpkins can be used to help the environment, they can also be a healthy, post-Halloween snack.

Leia Kedem, extension educator for University of Illinois Extension and registered dietitian, had previously written a pumpkin-themed blog post for the University’s Extension website, titled “Pumpkin is a Versatile and Healthy Food for Fall,” mentioning ways to prepare fresh pumpkin.

“Pumpkin can be used in either sweet or savory dishes. … Your left-over jack-o’-lanterns can also be used,” Kedem states in her blog. “Make the most of this classic Halloween decoration by purchasing pumpkins and reserving the flesh for cooking.”

Kedem also mentions in the blog that compared to sugar pumpkins, using Halloween pumpkins might be less sweet and more watery. She recommended students use these pumpkins in “savory pumpkin soup recipes.”

Voigt also shared that if you haven’t taken them out yet, the seeds of the pumpkin are also nutritious.

“The best thing of the pumpkin to eat is the seeds. They’re nutritious and contain fairly rare vitamins, such as vitamins E and K,” Voigt said.

The University of Illinois Extension Pumpkin Recipes webpage provides pumpkin-related recipes, such as “Pumpkin Apple Soup,” “Quick and Easy Pumpkin Soup” and “Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.”

“You have to remember food safety when using pumpkins from Halloween, though,” Voigt said. “If you cut the eyes and mouth out for a jack-o’-lantern, you don’t know what (bacteria) got started in there. You have to be careful.”

Another idea that the University of Illinois Extension Pumpkin Recipes webpage offers is making a Pumpkin Soup Tureen, also known as a soup bowl.

“The hollow shell makes a picturesque and elegant soup tureen. A large pumpkin shell can hold enough soup for a family gathering or dinner parties, while small pumpkin shells are just right for individual servings,” the webpage states. A list of step-by-step instructions are also given for making the bowl.

Although Halloween has passed, students can still get another use out of their pumpkins, whether its to improve their gardens or satisfy their appetites.

Christine can be reached at [email protected]