By Dan Wood
Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is, for many, one of the most iconic and fun activities around the Halloween season. It allows people of a wide range of ages to get into the Halloween spirit while being creative. While some carve pumpkins, others might buy other varieties of winter squash for decoration during the fall.
These brightly colored vegetables have been a symbol for the fall harvest in the United States for over 400 years. The pumpkin, and many other varieties of winter squash, are actually native to the Americas and served as a dietary staple to many of the indigenous peoples. So why are we butchering and allowing all this food to rot when, as a nation, we emit the second most greenhouse gasses in the world and one in seven Americans struggles with meal security?
According to the USDA, the United States produces around 1.8 billion pounds of pumpkins each year. With only about 1/5 or 360 million pounds of pumpkins being used directly for processing methods for foods such as canned pumpkin. That is just pumpkins alone, not including other winter squash that are quite often more colorful and flavorful.
Pumpkins and other winter squash used for cooking are often smaller, with a more tender flesh, and a much better flavor. The pumpkins produced for carving have been bred over time to maximize qualities that are beneficial to pumpkin carvers. Beneficial qualities include size, growth rate, stem strength, shape and yield. These types of pumpkins are often not as tasty as other varieties grown for culinary use, but are nonetheless edible. Pumpkins used for cooking are often smaller, with a more tender flesh, and a much better flavor.
The first and most obvious solution to this waste problem is to eat more pumpkin. Unfortunately, this implies not carving them. If you’re not willing to sacrifice the tradition of carving pumpkins, you can help reduce food waste and environmental harm, by at least roasting and eating the seeds you scrape out of the squash. Pumpkins and other winter squash are pretty nutritious, all things considered. They are high in fiber and beta-carotene and the seeds are rich in potassium, protein, and oils. (Listed below is a great recipe for spiced roasted seeds.) Not carving your pumpkins doesn’t mean you can’t decorate your living space with pumpkins and squash. It just means you should eat them before they go bad, instead of watching them rot for a month or so. Even after their peak freshness, most squash will make a great soup or pie.
Spiced Roasted Squash Seeds
-1 cup of seeds, pulp mostly removed
-1 stick of salted butter
-1 Tbsp. of sugar
-1 Tbsp. of pie spice
(Or a custom mixture of cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg)
-1 Tbsp. of kosher salt
-1-2 tsp. of Mexican hot chili powder
-1/4 tsp. ground cumin
-Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
In a small sauce pot over low heat, melt the butter
Remove from the heat and mix in all the other ingredients
In a small bowl toss the seeds in the spiced butter mixture
Spread the coated seeds on a baking sheet in a single layer and place on a middle rack of the oven
Toast the seeds, mixing occasionally, until they are all an even brown
Remove the seeds from the oven and allow them to cool
Enjoy in salads, trail mixes, soups, and even alone as a snack
*This spiced butter is also great to use for roasting any kind of winter squash flesh.