I always figured I would be the type of parent that goes all out for Halloween decorating, playing creepy music, carving tons of pumpkins, wearing a wig and all that.
As it turns out, I am not this parent.
My version of Halloween decorations consists of accidentally buying too many pumpkins and redirecting a lamp to highlight the massive cobweb empire known as the living-room ceiling. And every November I find myself staring down a pile of pumpkins on my front porch like they’re stray cats trying to sneak into the house.
But not this year! This year I am fighting back. And you can, too! Here are a few ways to use up those persistently festive pumpkins that you forgot to carve.
1. Eat 'em
Just because it’s a pumpkin doesn’t mean you have to make pumpkin bread. Did you know you can cut up a pumpkin and roast it like a sweet potato? Then you can fry it up with corn — it’s delicious. You can also make a pretty decent pasta sauce with pumpkin, parmesan and onions.
Roast them, puree them, or eat them raw (actually, don’t do that. That’s kind of yucky). Just don’t fall for the pumpkin spice agenda! Pumpkin is versatile. It goes great with mushrooms and bacon!
2. Paint pumpkins, all-terrain style
My kids like to paint on pretty much anything. Windows, sidewalks, rocks, sometimes the dog — they don’t really discriminate. Encourage them to get creative with that pumpkin and paint a really long cat that stretches all the way around. Or maybe a robot. Whatever they want.
Pro tips: Let the pumpkin come to room temperature before they start so you don’t have to battle both condensation and a small human trying to paint at the same time. Water-based tempera paints work well.
3. Hold a pumpkin challenge
Here’s what you do: Pick a time when you have an hour free. Introduce the challenge by saying something like, “Hey, do you want to do a pumpkin challenge — wait no, you probably don’t. Never mind.”
Then leave the room without waiting for an answer. If you’re sufficiently suspicious, any child within earshot will follow you, ready to prove you wrong about that thing you said about the pumpkins — what was that?
After you have their attention, give each kid a pumpkin and offer them a penny for each seed they can get out of it without making a huge mess. Stress that part a lot. When they shrug and say, “No problem, can you cut it open for me?” You smile and say, “Aha! That’s the challenge! You have to open it yourself. And you can’t use any knives.”
Forks work great on mushy pumpkins. (You may also consider a garden-implement rider if you have a more spirited child.)
We recently did this to great success. And by success, I mean that my two kids worked together for 30 minutes straight without arguing once.
4. Use pumpkins to teach basic carpentry (and physics!)
While regular 2 x 4's are too dense for little hands to hammer nails into, pumpkins aren't! Put those gourds to good use by teaching your little carpenter some valuable skills in both the Nail-Balancing and Trying-Not-to-Hit-Your-Fingers departments. Give them the tools and a wide berth and sit back and watch as they discover all the physical forces involved in both holding a hammer and using it at the same time. If you have an extra-large hammer, this activity can segue easily into a lesson on the Earth's gravitational pull.
Pro tips: If your pumpkin is small, use a towel to hold it in place. Also, for little kids (as young as 3), you'd want to hammer the nails partway in first and have kids finish them off. Golf tees can also work, especially on softer pumpkins.
5. Let your dog eat them.
Most of the dogs I know have a very broad definition of edible. Small sticks? Edible. Cat doot? Edible. Extra mint in the pocket of your coat? Edible puzzle! Do you know what they super-duper love? Roasted pumpkin. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be roasted. Thor (see below) will eat pumpkin guts if we let him. I don’t let him. That grosses me out.
6. In the end, compost.
If your pumpkins are beyond salvageable, toss that moldy mess into a compost heap and watch as squirrels from as far away as Banff come to visit you. If you have a dog, the very act of composting can translate into hours of “Squirrel in the yard!” fun (or neurosis, depending on how you look at these things).
So there you are folks. The next time you find yourself facing an angry mob of pumpkins slowly trying to break into your house, you will know how to deal with them. Good luck!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2014, and updated in October 2021.