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Can You Eat Your Jack-o-lantern Pumpkin?

Two children carving out a pumpkin with their hands.
rawpixel / Unsplash

It’s fall and thoughts turn to pumpkin pie and to Halloween jack-o-lanterns. But, can you use a pumpkin for both a jack-o-lantern and for eating?

“Young children can enjoy creating jack-o-lanterns by drawing the eyes and mouth on the pumpkins with markers,” states Ann Hertzler, extension specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension. “They can be creative and have a good time and the pumpkin is still safe for eating.”

Pumpkin pie tastes great this time of year and is also an excellent source of nutrients. “The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene,” according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. “Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.”

Here are some tips from the University of Illinois on preparing a pumpkin for making pumpkin pie. Work on a clean surface. Before cutting, wash the outer surface of the pumpkin thoroughly with cool tap water to remove any surface dirt that could be transferred to the inside of the pumpkin during cutting.

Preparing the Pumpkin

Start by removing the stem with a sharp knife. Cut in half with a sharp knife. In any case, remove the stem and scoop out the seeds and scrape away all of the stringy mass. A messy job, but it will pay off.

Cooking the Pumpkin

Boiling/Steaming Method: Cut the pumpkin into rather large chunks. Rinse in cold water. Place pieces in a large pot with about a cup of water. The water does not need to cover the pumpkin pieces. Cover the pot and boil 20 to 30 minutes or until tender, or steam 10 to 12 minutes. Check for doneness by poking with a fork. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander. Reserve the liquid to use as a base for soup. Follow the steps outlined below in Preparing the Puree.

Oven Method: Cut pumpkin in half, scraping away stringy mass and seeds. Rinse under cold water. Place pumpkin, cut side down on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour or until fork tender. Then follow the procedure outlined below in Preparing the Puree.

Microwave Method: Cut pumpkin in half, place cut side down on a microwave safe plate or tray. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, check for doneness. If necessary continue cooking at 1-2 minute intervals until fork tender. Continue as outlined below in Preparing the Puree.

Preparing the Puree

When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, remove the peel using a small sharp knife and your fingers. Put the peeled pumpkin in a food processor and puree or use a food mill, ricer, strainer or potato masher to form a puree.

Pumpkin puree freezes well. To freeze, measure cooled puree into one cup portions, place in ridged freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace or pack into zip closure bags. Label, date, and freeze at 0 degrees F for up to one year. (NOTE: Transfer hot foods to shallow containers to speed cooling. You can place loosely covered foods in the refrigerator while still warm; cover when food is completely cooled.) Use this puree in recipes or substitute in the same amount in any recipe calling for solid pack canned pumpkin.

NOTE: Don’t let your cooked pumpkin set at room temperature longer than two hours in the process of making puree.

Copy provided by University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County.