FAIRBANKS — Boo! Today is Halloween! What happens after Halloween? We’re often left with decorations, costumes, candy and tons of pumpkins. We can store the decorations and costumes for next year. Although the candy eventually gets eaten up or repurposed for birthday party gift bags or piñatas, what do we do with all those pumpkins?
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. produced over 1.6 billion pounds of pumpkins in 2016. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the U.S. wastes about 30 to 40 percent of its food supply. Most pumpkins are sold to consumers primarily for ornamental purposes, especially during Halloween season. This means pumpkin waste is likely contributing to our food waste issue.
What can we do? I’m not saying don’t buy pumpkins, but there are some important things to keep in mind so we can help reduce food waste from pumpkins.
A pumpkin is a winter squash and a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. It is also low in fat and calories. It’s a bargain during Halloween and Thanksgiving and if well selected, a pumpkin can be kept for several months when properly stored.
When selecting a pumpkin, look for one that is completely intact and heavy for its size. Don’t worry if the pumpkin isn’t perfectly shaped. Make sure it’s free of cuts and punctures. Sunken or moldy spots on the rind can indicate decay. Storing a pumpkin at a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees is best. If you are buying a pumpkin to paint, decorate or carve, and not to eat, do everyone else the favor by selecting the pumpkins with cuts and bruises. Those may not be picked for consumption and the imperfections add character anyway.
After your pumpkin has served its purpose, there are several ways that you can choose to dispose of it. Try to recycle it for compost. If you choose to keep your pumpkin for consumption, UAF Cooperative Extension Service has some great resources to help.
The Extension has publications with recipes and instructions on selecting, preparing and processing winter squash and pumpkin seeds. “Winter Squash” is available online at http://bit.ly/18vkepZ and “Pumpkin Seeds” is at http://bit.ly/1fht4YA. Be aware that painted pumpkins can absorb the toxins through the pumpkin shell and are not recommended for compost or consumption. You can also call your local Extension office for more information.
In the end, finding ways to keep wholesome and nutritious food is important. In doing so, we can help reduce food waste and address food insecurity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 42 million Americans live in food-insecure households. It also says reducing food waste will help address climate change, as 20 percent of total U.S. methane emissions come from landfills.
Below is a kid-approved recipe from www.foodhero.org to make in the spirit of Halloween — or anytime.
Jack-O-Lanterns (Pumpkin Pancakes)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin or homemade pumpkin puree
13/4 cups nonfat or
1 percent milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups flour or (1 cup enriched flour and 1 cup whole wheat)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or (1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon dry ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon cloves or nutmeg)
1 teaspoon salt
Combine eggs, pumpkin, milk and oil in large mixing bowl.
Add flour, brown sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt to egg mixture. Stir gently.
Lightly spray a large skillet or griddle with nonstick cooking spray or lightly wipe with oil. Heat skillet or griddle over medium-high heat (300 degrees in an electric skillet). Using a ¼-cup measure, pour batter on hot griddle.
Put a face on the jack-o-lantern, using raisins for eyes and teeth. Drop raisins in batter while it cooks.
Pancakes are ready to turn when tops are bubbly all over and the edges begin to appear dry. Use a quick flip with a broad spatula to turn pancakes. Turn only once. Continue to bake until bottoms are brown and dry.
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
Reina Hasting is a nutrition educator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education administered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-474-2437.