A cheerful harbinger of autumn, pumpkins are highly versatile fruits with a wide range of uses, from culinary applications to spooking kids at Halloween!
Loaded with valuable nutrients, they’re rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. The bright orange flesh has a delicious, sweetly nutty flavor when cooked, making it a classic ingredient in sweet dishes like muffins, pancakes, and pies.
They are equally adept in savory recipes as well, served as a scrumptious roasted side dish or a rich and satisfying entree.
Plus, the toasted seeds make a tasty and nutritious snack!
A type of winter squash, the round orange fruits are instantly recognizable, although they also come in different colors, with green, red, white, and yellow varieties.
Among the oldest of domesticated foods, pumpkins – one of the hundreds of species in the Cucurbitaceae family, or cucurbits for short – are easily grown in the home garden, and they’re readily available at grocery stores and markets starting in the late summer.
You can read all about growing and harvesting them in our growing guide on our sister site, Gardeners Path.
Easily carved and hollowed, they are both fun and functional, giving us iconic fall vessels like jack-o’-lanterns, punch bowls, or soup tureens.
And what would the autumn holidays be without a few orange gourds decorating our homes?
Tasty, nutritious, and fun, are you ready for some gourd-y goodness this fall? Then let’s get the scoop on 11 fun ways to use pumpkins!
Here’s what you’ll find ahead:
11 Fun Ways to Use Pumpkins This Fall
A type of winter squash that’s also identified as a gourd, the pumpkins we grow or buy at the local market belong to the genus Cucurbita, with the most common varieties from the species C. pepo, C. maxima, and C. moschata.
Technically, they’re a fruit – a modified berry known as a pepo, but they’re cultivated and consumed as a vegetable.
And the varieties sold for Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, known as carving types, are different from the pie or baking types.
The carving types are bred for their appealing aesthetics, most notably a smooth, bright orange rind and large, symmetrically round or oblong shapes. These are the ones often sold in big bins at grocery stores and local farms prior to Halloween.
Baking varieties, also called sugar or pie types, are noted for their sweet, thick flesh with less stringy pulp than the carving varieties.
Baking or pie types are usually smaller than carving varieties and not as “pretty,” often with flattened tops or odd shapes – but their dense flesh is richly flavored with a tender, velvety texture when cooked.
Sugar varieties are typically found in the produce section in grocery stores and markets over the fall and winter seasons.
The commercially available canned puree for cooking is processed from popular pie varieties like Cinderella and Dickinson.
These globular gourds have an impressive nutritional profile. They’re a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as the minerals iron, magnesium, and potassium, plus carotenoids like lutein, alpha, and beta carotenes.
An historically important food staple for Native Americans, colonists were cultivating them by the early 1600s. And they’re still a staple in today’s garden.
Standard fare at celebrations like Halloween and Thanksgiving, let’s check out how to select fresh gourds for carving and cooking.
How to Select
Choose selections with healthy, firm skin that’s free of cracks and splits as well as discolored, soft, or sunken spots.
The rind should have a bright color and resist scratching when you lightly press your fingernail into it.
Look for those with a firm, bright green stem, which is a good indication of freshness.
But never carry one by the stem – its connection to the fruit may not be strong enough to support the full weight. And once the stem comes off, decay isn’t far behind.
If you need to store your gourd for a few days, place it in a cool and dry location out of direct sunlight and set it on a piece of cardboard to prevent it absorbing external moisture.
The 11 Ways
When you’re ready to use your gorgeous gourds, check out the following uses to have some fun all fall long!
And be sure to visit this recipe for fresh and flavorful homemade puree, an important base for many classic autumnal goodies.
1. Beverages and Smoothies
Pumpkin Margarita – Get the Recipe Now
And a fall-flavored cocktail is a sure way to liven up the ghouls at any Halloween party!
2. Desserts and Sweets
You know and love all the sweet classics in the realm of pumpkin recipes – let’s celebrate them here!
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars – Get the Recipe Now
Use the puree in a huge range of sweetly flavored recipes that include blondies, breads, brittle, brownies, cake, cheesecake, churros, cinnamon rolls, cookies, crisp or crumble, cupcakes, doughnuts, fudge, granola bars, ice cream, madeleines, muffins, pancakes, pie, pudding, scones, tiramisu, trifle, truffles, and waffles.
It’s particularly outstanding when combined in a recipe with chocolate – okay, everything is outstanding with chocolate! – like our chocolate swirl pumpkin bread.
3. Dips and Spreads
With its thick and creamy texture, the puree makes a delicious addition to a savory dip or spread for bagels, breads, chips, crackers, muffins, and vegetables.
Pumpkin Hummus – Get the Recipe Now
Try mixing it with PPS and cream cheese or Greek yogurt for a tangy bagel spread or chip dip. Or create a mouthwatering hummus that’s perfect for fall-themed charcuterie, cheese and cracker, or veggie trays.
And to warm up those chilly fall mornings, blend some with butter, maple syrup, and PPS for a sweetly spicy spread on toast, pancakes, or waffles – or add a pat to a bowl of piping hot oatmeal or quinoa.
4. Spice Blend
Speaking of the iconic fall spice blend, I’ll let you in on a secret:
You don’t have to buy prepared spice blends like pumpkin pie spice.
Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend – Get the Recipe Now
They’re easy to mix at home with ingredients you likely already have in your spice rack, and it’s easy to scale a batch to size, so you can make more or less as you like.
The fall flavors come vibrantly alive when seasoned with all of these comfy and cozy warming spices!
They’re the perfect combination for the sweetly nutty taste of winter squash. Blended together, they do magical things that transform and enliven a plethora of recipes.
Need to make a batch for the holidays? Our pumpkin spice recipe spells it all out step by step.
5. Savory Dishes
Highly versatile, the thick-walled baking or sugar varieties add their rich flavor to savory foods as well as sweet dishes.
These varieties are scrumptious as a side dish when cut into cubes, lightly coated with olive oil, simply seasoned with freshly milled salt and pepper, then baked on a sheet pan. You can try it either by itself or with a medley of other roasted fall vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
Pumpkin Kamut with Pecorino and Hazelnuts – Get the Recipe Now
Sliced into sticks and lightly seasoned, they make healthy and tasty baked fries – a nice alternative to potatoes and yams.
And you can use them as a substitute in any of your favorite butternut squash recipes.
When cubed, they add unique flavor and silky texture to dishes like chili, curry, pot pies, and stews. And when the cooked pieces are served cold, they add a sweet, earthy flavor to salads and slaws.
The puree makes an excellent featured flavor for entrees like risotto, gnocchi, and pastas such as lasagna, mac and cheese, manicotti, or ravioli. You won’t want to miss out on the outstanding flavor combo of squash and sage in this rich and creamy pasta sauce.
Even the blossoms are edible – try them battered and lightly fried for a tasty appetizer or tapas plate.
You can also use the plain, unseasoned puree for a flavorful and nutritious baby food!
6. Seeds and Trail Mix
Like the bright orange flesh, the seeds of a squash provide excellent nutrition, the perfect healthy snack option.
High in dietary fiber, they’re also a good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and protein.
Toasted and Seasoned Pumpkin Seeds – Get the Recipe Now
They also make a delicious salad topper, and are an ideal ingredient in mixed nut blends, like maple-spiced nuts and seeds.
Or try toasting the seeds with the shells still on. Review our recipe for toasted seeds. We’ll give you thorough advice every step of the process, as well as give you some tasty seasoning suggestions.
Few things are as comforting as a bowl of hot soup at the end of a long day or after time spent outdoors in the crisp fall air.
And the velvety texture and rich flavor of our favorite cucurbits is the perfect ingredient for creamed soups, like this creamy and comforting pumpkin soup.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup – Get the Recipe Now
Or you can warm up from the inside out with a bowl of flavorful curried soup seasoned with other warming spices like curry, coriander, and cayenne.
And as all parts of the cucurbits are edible, don’t toss the guts and seeds from a Halloween carving session. They’re perfect for adding flavor and nutrients to a big pot of simmering vegetable stock along with the likes of celery, carrot, kale, and onion. It’s a smart way of repurposing food scraps.
With such a wide range of uses, there’s no way you can think that pumpkin is for the birds…
But it certainly can be!
The seeds are rich in protein and healthy fats, making them a natural for hungry winter birds.
Make a birdfeeder blend by mixing them with the likes of cracked corn, white millet, nyjer seeds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds to attract a wide variety of migratory and overwintering feathered friends.
In really cold temperatures, you can provide birds with an extra energy boost by mixing the above grains and seeds with suet and small pieces of dried, sugar-free fruit like apples, cranberries, and raisins.
9. Compost Builder
Once the fall holidays are done and dusted, you may still have gourd remnants to deal with that are a little worse for wear.
They can be added to your compost bin!
Flesh, rind, and stems all break down quickly and add important nutrients and tilth to the budding soil.
But hold off on putting the seeds in your compost, unless you know they come from heirloom or open pollinated stock – they’ll sprout like crazy come spring, even after freezing. You’ll have an abundant supply of seedlings, but if they’re from hybrids they probably won’t produce fruits the same as their parents, if they fruit at all.
If you don’t have your own compost containers, put out your leftover pieces for pickup and processing in your local food waste collection program.
10. Holiday Decor
To honor the autumn season, or celebrate occasions like Halloween and Thanksgiving, gorgeous orange gourds are an ideal accessory for indoor and outdoor decorations.
It’s easy to create a harvest scene for entryways, foundations, and porches by displaying them with a variety of colorful chrysanthemums, a bale or two of hay, and a stand of golden grains or ears of corn.
If you’re not into carving gourds for Halloween, they’re easy to paint after wiping clean and drying. Use fast drying and easy-to-clean acrylic paints – available at any art supply store – to paint haunted faces, stencil on leaf motifs, or create your own signature graphic designs.
For a unique centerpiece, stack or pile a few colorful, flat-topped sugar varieties in the center of your dining table for a seasonal theme. Pair them with other fall decor for a beautifully themed Thanksgiving table.
And hollowed and carved pumpkins are the gourd of choice for jack-o’-lanterns!
But they’re also great for carving into sturdy holding vessels for seasonal dinner parties. Cut out a wide-mouth lid and scrape away the innards to make a handsome punch bowl, salad bowl, soup tureen, or wine cooler for fit for any harvest, Halloween, or Thanksgiving celebration.
11. Stressed Skin Soother
If you have any leftover puree, it makes a superb anti-aging facial for stressed skin.
It has anti-inflammatory compounds that sooth skin cells, enzymes to gently exfoliate, and vitamins A and C to help firm and protect the skin.
Combine 1/2 cup plain puree with two tablespoons finely ground almonds, one tablespoon each plain unflavored yogurt and honey, plus a few drops of almond or extra virgin olive oil.
Apply to the face and throat and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Then, rinse it completely off with cool water for soft, smooth skin.
Sweet Fall Fare and Fun
Beautifully colored with richly flavored, velvety flesh, pumpkins are sweet fall fare with an impressive range of uses.
Use the richly flavored sugar or pie varieties as a delicious ingredient in savory and sweet foods.
The carving types don’t have the same sweetly nutty flavor, but they make the best jack-o’-lanterns and holding vessels for a festive punch or creamy soup.
The seeds from both types are delicious and nutritious, raw or toasted. And remember, winter birds appreciate the healthy seeds too!
And you can even treat yourself to a relaxing spa day at home using the unseasoned puree in an all-natural facial mask!
What are your favorite ways to use this fall classic? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
And for more autumnal inspiration, add these seasonal guides and tutorials to your reading list next:
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.