Five Things to Do With a Pumpkin
Ghosts, witches, black cats and bats may fight for the spotlight this time of year, but the pumpkin reigns supreme as the season’s ultimate icon of harvest time and Halloween.
Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin skins and wove them into mats. Pioneers used the large hollowed vessels to serve stew and soup. They also filled pumpkins with bread, honey and spices, then cooked it in coals — the predecessor to today’s beloved pumpkin pie.
What will you do with your pumpkin this year? Here are some tips and twists on traditional ideas.
Create a face
The tradition of carving jack-o’-lantern faces into a pumpkin came to America from Irish immigrants, who used to carve turnips. Pumpkins were less expensive and plentiful, and their large size and hollow innards served the purpose perfectly.
Choose a pumpkin without bruising or soft spots. A lighter-colored pumpkin tends to be softer and easier to carve. Cut the top at a 45-degree angle and scoop out the seeds with an ice cream scoop or large metal spoon.
Draw a pattern on your pumpkin with a washable marker and use a serrated knife to cut the design. Consider cutting out the bottom of your pumpkin as well, which will help your jack-o’-lantern sit flat and provide a level surface for your light source.
For some free carving patterns, check out www.spookmaster.com or carve a virtual pumpkin at http://spookathon.com.
Make it glow
Burning lumps of coal were originally used to illuminate carved turnips, later replaced by candles. If you’re using a candle to get your pumpkin glowing, make sure the inside of your pumpkin is scraped well and leave the top off while the candle is burning.
Flashlights are a safe and effective way to light up a pumpkin, along with disposable glow sticks, which can come in a variety of colors. Inexpensive battery-operated votive lights are also available; they even flicker.
Another option is to use a string of holiday lights, bundled inside your pumpkin. Cut a small hole at the base of your pumpkin in the back for the electrical cord to fit through and plug it into an outdoor outlet. See other lighting options at www.pumpkinmasters.com/lighting.asp.
Roast the seeds
Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for medicine. While they can’t cure a stomachache caused by a candy overdose, they can be a tasty, toasted fall snack that is also healthy.
After removing seeds from the pumpkin, wash remaining pulp off of seeds and spread them on a paper towel to dry overnight. Line a baking sheet with foil; cover with cooking spray or a light layer of oil. Toss seeds in oil, spread them on the baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with your choice of seasonings. Garlic salt or onion powder makes a savory snack, while cinnamon and sugar results in a sweeter treat.
Bake at 250 degrees for about one hour, tossing seeds every 15 minutes. Toasted seeds can be stored for up to three months in an airtight container.
Play a game
Whether you’re having a Halloween party or looking for a fun way to break up an afternoon of leaf raking, this collection of games requires little more than a few household items and pumpkins of course.
* Ring toss – Play ring around the pumpkin by setting several pumpkins in the yard. Use paints to designate each pumpkin as a different value. Players throw a hula hoop around the pumpkins to score. The highest score wins!
* Hot pumpkin – Use the same technique as the classic hot potato game to create a hot pumpkin game. Players pass a mini pumpkin around until the music stops. The player left holding the pumpkin is out and the game continues until only one player is left.
* Pumpkin toss – Set up hollowed-out pumpkins in a row. Use paints or markers to designate a variety of values for each pumpkin. Players toss beanbags, golf balls or acorns into the openings of the pumpkins to score points.
Squash the squash
At the end of the season, many pumpkins endure a slow, decaying end in the yard or on a porch step. Regularly check carved pumpkins for signs of rotting. A decomposing pumpkin can be a dangerous mushy mess on your outdoor stairs and may leave a stain on furniture or flooring if kept indoors.
When your pumpkin begins to shrivel, throw it in your compost pile or bury it in the garden. The decomposing pumpkin will enrich your soil.
Sharon Miller Cindrich is a freelance writer who frequently covers parenting topics.