Halloween is just a few days away. This means we're at the height of pumpkin season, but did you know there is much more you can do besides carve a jack-o-lantern?
1. Pumpkin keg
Is there a better way to serve drinks at a Halloween party than tapping a pumpkin? I doubt it. This is the ultimate awesome addition to any festive get-together. It costs about $30 for the tap kit; drinks and pumpkin not included.
2. Pumpkin cooler
This is the low-rent version of the keg. Hollow out a pumpkin (a nice big one), then fill it with ice and assorted drinks. It's a self-serve cooler with easy cleanup: Just toss it at the end of the night. (It also works well, post cooler use, as compost.)
3. Make a planter
While we're talking about the garden and compost -- pumpkins make great planters. Again, take a hollowed-out pumpkin; fill it with soil and your favorite plant. Place it out in the garden, where the pumpkin will naturally decompose and fertilize the plant. If you want to put it indoors, fill the bottom with water and add a bouquet.
4. Pumpkin air freshener
Again, this one starts out with a hollowed-out pumpkin. Cut holes all around the pumpkin using an apple corer -- either random or symmetrical, your choice. Rub spices inside of the pumpkin -- nutmeg, allspice, or cinnamon. (Stay away from alcohol-based items like vanilla extract which can ignite when near a flame.) Insert a candle, light and enjoy.
5. Tea candle-holder
Have you seen those itty-bitty pumpkins that are about the size of apples? They make wonderful votive candle-holders. Just carve out a circular area around the stem. Make the hole the diameter of a 50-cent piece. Drop in a tea light. This also works as a floating candle-holder.
6. Pumpkin puree skin care products
Pumpkin contains Vitamins A and C to smooth and soften skin. It also has fruit enzymes that increase cell turnover. The benefits of pumpkin -- the flesh and the seeds -- are prevalent in skin-care products. Making your own isn't hard, but it is time-consuming. A pumpkin puree, according to the Food Network's Alton Brown, takes about two hours to prepare. (Or you might pick up a can of pumpkin at your local supermarket.) A simple body scrub can be made by mixing 1/4-cup of puree with 1/4-cup of brown sugar. Here's a few more recipes to try, from the Ecouture blog.
7. Pumpkin soup
Most soups start with a pumpkin puree or roasted pumpkin mixed with stock (chicken is traditional). The basic ingredients (in addition to the pumpkin) include butter, heavy cream, onions, carrots, apples and spices. There are about a million variations -- Allrecipes.com has 82 recipes to explore.
8. Serving bowls
As long as you are making soup, you might try serving it in a pumpkin bowl. The pumpkins have to be prepped for this -- don't serve raw bowls, cooked bowls are edible. Hollow out and clean the pumpkins. Size is important here: Pumpkins with a 6" diameter work best. Brush the inside with some olive oil and sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Bake the bowls on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, or until the pumpkin flesh is tender. Let the bowls cool before filling.
9. Roast the seeds
It's an oldie but goodie; simple and delicious. Also, the process takes about the length of carving, so it's the perfect post-carving snack. Mix seeds in melted butter and a pinch of salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Mix occasionally. Let the seeds cool for a few minutes before serving.
10. Old toy, new uses
This is an alternative to carving. If you have a child in the house, you might have either Mr. Potato Head or Lite Brite pieces laying around. Both are fantastic for unique pumpkin heads and designs. Helpful hint: If you go with the Lite Brite method, try using an electric drill to make the holes. Pumpkin skin is often thicker than Lite Brite pegs are deep.
Happy Halloween and have fun with your pumpkins -- they can have a life long past the holidays.