Autumn is my favorite time of year—the crisp air, changing leaves, and apple cider. But what I most associate with autumn isn’t the cool weather or the apples; for me, it’s the pumpkins.
Every year for the past 23 years I’ve carved a pumpkin in honor of Halloween. My designs have ranged from the scary (demon, skull) to the whimsical (fairy, gryphon). I’ve gotten the process down to an art, and two days before Halloween, I carve the gourd.
As most of you probably know, pumpkins don’t last that long once carved (I used to stick mine in the refrigerator before Halloween to give it a little help). Delicate designs start to cave in and the fruit begins to brown in a short time. After Halloween, it takes only about three days before I surrender my creation to the nearest landfill.
Recently I wondered what I could do to make the whole process a little less wasteful and a little bit more eco friendly. It all starts with where you find your gourd.
When buying your pumpkin, don’t go to the nearest grocery store. According to the University of Illinois, 90 percent of the nation’s pumpkin crop is grown within a 90 mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Try not to go to your nearest farm, either (unless it’s very close). Instead, look at your nearest farmer’s market. Although the grocery store may be convenient, you can’t be sure how far that pumpkin has traveled, and how many greenhouse gases were emitted to get it there. Similarly, driving to the nearest farm to pick out your own pumpkin can rack up your emissions. Sure, it can be a fun trip; but think of how many families and vehicles are driving that same distance just to retrieve one or two pumpkins each. A farmer’s market (as long as you live near one) ensures that you’re reducing carbon emissions by buying something local—only one or two people drive to deliver a bunch of pumpkins to the market. Better yet, grow your own pumpkins if you can.
Now that you have your pumpkin, keep it cool (don’t turn up your AC, though!). Like any other fruit, pumpkins eventually go bad (the bane of my carving tradition). Setting it outside or next to an open window can help (as long as it’s cool outside), but buying your pumpkin as close to Halloween as possible is the best policy.
Be sure to save your pumpkin’s innards once you carve it—they can be used later to make everything from pumpkin bread (see my own recipe below) to pumpkin soup. For a crispy snack, turn the seeds into a healthy alternative to potato chips. You paid for your pumpkin, so you might as well use all of it.
Now what happens after Halloween? Technically, you could process your pumpkin even further for eating purposes. However, for those more squeamish about noshing on something that’s been at the mercy of insects—or trick-or-treaters—all night (like yours truly), there’s another solution: Cut up your gourd and turn it into compost or feed it directly into your garden. If you’re stuck without a yard, find a program in your area such as New York City Greenmarket’s compost program or San Francisco’s compost collection. Donate your pumpkin to a good cause.
Pumpkin Bread Recipe:
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
Slightly more than 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small can of pumpkin puree (a little more than 1 cup) or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree**
1/4 cup of water
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together. In another bowl, combine oil, pumpkin, eggs, water, and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients gradually and stir. Pour the mixture into a well-greased baking pan and cook from 45 to 55 minutes or until knife inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
** To make pumpkin puree from your pumpkin, check the recipe here.