There are so many wonderful seasonal delights we look forward to every autumn: Gradually cooling temperatures, green leaves transitioning to crimson and ochre tones, and of course the wonderful fresh fall produce from our vegetable gardens. What is our favorite fall vegetable of all? Well of course it is the ubiquitous mascot of the autumn season- the pumpkin!
This year, we planted our Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin seeds in late May. This particular type of pumpkin is our favorite, since the fruits develop that beautiful deep orange glowing skin, and they grow to a hefty 10-18 pound size. Since they are so large, these pumpkins take 105 days to reach maturity, which means that they are just about ready to cut from the vines. Joy!
Each year we, of course, simply cannot resist carving a huge, gaping grin into at least one of our pumpkins. Jack O’Lantern carving is certainly a nostalgic little walk down the lanes of our memory. But this year, we’re reserving 5 of our proudly sown, grown, and harvested pumpkins for some cool and unusual uses. Check out these 5 unexpected uses for your fall pumpkins:
1. Pumpkin as a Flower Pot
A pumpkin can make a beautiful centerpiece or front step adornment when used as a flower pot or vase. To make your own, start by cutting the top off of your pumpkin. Cut around the stem to create a hole about 6 inches in diameter. It should be large enough to accommodate the flowers and/or foliage you wish to use. Scoop the goop and seeds out of the inside of the pumpkin. (Keep these and set them aside if you wish to use them for baking.) If you wish to use your pumpkin as a vase, place a glass vase, plastic cup, or empty coffee can inside the pumpkin. It should be filled 3/4 full of water and just a drop or two of standard bleach. You can then arrange your cut flowers however you would like them. If you wish to use a potted plant, lower your potted plant into the pumpkin. Make sure that neither a vase nor a pot will drain or leak into the pumpkin. It should be kept as cool and dry as possible.
2. Pumpkin as Potpourri
When you use a real pumpkin as a potpourri burner, it leaves your house smelling better than any scented candle could. A small variety, such as a Sugar Pie Pumpkin, works well for this project. To begin, cut off the top of your pumpkin in an even slice, and set this aside. Scoop out all of the seeds and goop. Carve circular vents into the sides and lid of the pumpkin using a hole cutter. (You can find one of these in a craft store- they are used by potters to make holes in clay, and look like a short metal tube with a cap on one end.) On the underside of the lid, rub on a bit of cinnamon, a bit of pumpkin pie spice, and insert a few whole cloves. Set a tea light inside, and place the whole pumpkin on a small plate or saucer. If you’d like to get creative, you can also set the pumpkin on top of a cake stand, or in the top of a teapot. When the tea light is lit, the spicy, pumpkin pie scent can last for up to 6 hours.
3. Pumpkin as a Bird Feeder
Making a pumpkin bird feeder is a cool way to use a small pumpkin along with its seeds. Plus, it is a fun way to keep your backyard songstresses fed when temperatures begin to drop and food becomes a bit more scarce. To make a pumpkin bird feeder, select a pumpkin that is no more than about 5 pounds in weight. Cut it in half width-wise and thoroughly scrape out the goop so that the inside feels relatively dry to the touch. Leave a 1/2 inch wall on the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin seeds into this wall so that they stick up and form a ledge around the outside of the feeder. (You may need to use a carving knife to cut a little groove for them to stick into.) For perches, poke small holes in the outside of the pumpkin and insert small twigs. To hang the feeder, knot together two lengths of twine, and tack the knot to the bottom of the pumpkin. Fill the feeder with bird feed such as nyjer seeds, suet cakes, or a fruit and nut blend. Try to hang the feeder out of direct sunlight, as this will help the pumpkin to last longer.
4. Pumpkin as a Cooler
Since large, wide pumpkins are naturally bowl-shaped, they make great receptacles for beer, soda, and other bottled drinks. Choose a nice hefty pumpkin and begin by cutting off the top 1/3. Thoroughly scrape out all the goop and seeds. Next, place a glass or plastic bowl inside the pumpkin cavity. This is important to help prevent the pumpkin from getting waterlogged. If you do not have a bowl, smear Vaseline on the inside of the pumpkin, then cover it with plastic wrap. Fill the bowl with ice and bottled beverages of your choice.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can try your hand at this customized pumpkin beer cooler from Extremepumpkins.com. It would definitely make a good conversation topic for any fall party. Just be careful- because a huge pumpkin filled with ice is going to be pretty heavy!
5. Pumpkin as a Stew
We received this pumpkin stew recipe from a friend, and we can’t wait to try making it ourselves the next time we entertain! Not only does this recipe make a delicious, comforting and hearty fall meal using fresh vegetables, but the stew is served in the actual pumpkin. How cool is that?
Ingredients: 1 pumpkin that is 10-12 pounds in size; 2 pounds of cubed beef stew meat (we always prefer organic beef); 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil; 1 green bell pepper, sliced into 1-inch thick slices; 1 chopped onion; 4 potatoes, cubed with the skin on; 3 carrots, cut into 1 inch chunks; 2 cloves of minced garlic; 2 sticks of celery, cut into 1 inch slices; 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes, or 15 ounces of fresh tomatoes from your garden; 2-3 cups of water or vegetable broth; salt and pepper to taste.
Directions: Cut off the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin to create a large bowl shape. Make sure the opening is large enough to fit a serving utensil and your hand. Remove the seeds and the goop. Set the pumpkin aside. In a large pot on the stovetop, brown the meat in the 2 tablespoons of oil. If you prefer a vegetarian stew, you can skip the meat and instead add root vegetables, such as parsnips and turnips. Add in the remaining ingredients, and allow this to simmer on low for one hour. Place the pumpkin inside a shallow roasting pan, and ladel the stew into the pumpkin. Brush the outside of the pumpkin with a light coating of canola or olive oil. Place the whole pumpkin in the roasting pan inside an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. (You will probably need to remove one oven rack and move one to the bottom to accomodate the large pumkin.) Allow this to bake for about 2 hours, or until the pumpkin is tender. Remove this carefully from the oven, and serve it while the stew is still hot. When serving, ladel out the stew and scrape at the sides of the pumpkin in order to include baked pumpkin flesh with each serving.
Mmmmmm… we’re hungry already!
Images courtesy of Tiny Farm Blog, Marth Stewart Living, Extremepumpkins.com, and Recipes.parajsa.com