A Decrease font size. A Reset font size. A Increase font size.

Grandpa with grandson and pumkins

With Halloween fast approaching, it’s a good bet most of us have a pumpkin or two or four awaiting carving or decorating the doorstep.

The big orange gourds are especially easy to come by in Illinois, >which leads the nation in pumpkin production. Each year, the state’s farmers contribute about a third of the 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. each year. Some 148 million Americans—45 percent of the population—said they plan to carve pumpkins this year. The rest of the crop will be processed for food products, including the canned filling soon to be enjoyed in Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.

But jack-o-lanterns and pie barely scratch the surface of the season’s pumpkin-y offerings. In the 15 years since Starbuck’s added the Pumpkin Spice Latte to it’s fall lineup, pumpkin-flavored products have proliferated. And thanks to Pinterest, decorative uses for uncarved pumpkins have also burgeoned.

It wasn’t long ago that pumpkin seeds were the only thing salvaged from jack-o-lanterns. Now, there are hundreds of ideas for almost every part of a pumpkin, from the pulp to the skin. Take a look at some of the more creative uses:

  1. Food and beverages. Nutritionally speaking, pumpkins are an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene (which gives them their orange color), while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds packs magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and other vitamins and minerals.

Ways to cook with pumpkin range from making vegetable stock or bread with the guts to turning the flesh into a healthy puree that can be frozen and used for pie, muffins—even a home-grown pumpkin spice beverage or pumpkin cocktails. Pumpkin also makes a delicious lasagna or risotto, is excellent in dozens of seasonal desserts and baked goods and also can be pickled. And don’t forget the skin, which can be transformed into healthy chips. Which means you can pretty much eat a whole pumpkin.

  1. Beauty products. If you’ve had your fill of pumpkin everything, another way to benefit from its beta-carotene is by whipping it into body butter, an exfoliating scrub, a facial mask or a hair conditioner.
  2. Decorations. A tried-and-true arrangement of pumpkins and gourds never gets old, as residents of Monarch Landing are aware. The senior community’s gathering spaces are brightened by the fall beauties. But there are other creative ways to display the bounty, particularly for the crafters among us. How about using a pumpkin as a planter or a beer dispenser and repurposing gourds as a wreath or candle holders?
  3. Animal treats. Pumpkins also entice our feathered and four-legged friends. Consider hanging a hollowed out half-pumpkin as a bird-feeder or baking up some dog treats with cooked or canned pumpkin.
  4. Recycle. Despite all the ways to use and enjoy the bounty of fall pumpkins, there is nothing less appetizing or more forlorn than a four-day-old jack-o-lantern. Every year, more than a billion pounds of them end up in landfills, where they release methane, a greenhouse gas, into the environment, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

There are better ways to dispose of tired old pumpkins, including feeding them to animals or composting them. The Naperville Park District and SCARCE, an area environmental organization, will hold their 2018 Pumpkin Smash on November 3 at the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots, 811 S. West St. Pumpkins will be counted, weighed and smashed into the soil where they will provide nutrients for next year’s crops.