If the bumper crop rumors are true, this Halloween we'll be seeing some great pumpkins, Charlie Brown. The sad thing about pumpkins is many of them get tossed into the trash once the monsters disappear and Halloween is over. What a waste. As gourds and members of the squash family, pumpkins can be so much more than jack-o-lanterns:
* Bowl of plenty. Pumpkins can be used as bowls to hold soup, punch, fruit and even dips. Just cut the top off and scoop out its pulp, seeds and stringy flesh. Once it's clean rub the inside walls of the pumpkin with oil to keep the inside shell from drying out and caving in. Then fill it with your food of choice.
* Pumpkin face mask. Set aside some of that puree in a bowl. Then add some brown sugar and a dash of milk to create a vitamin-rich facial mask rich in vitamins A, C and Zinc.
* Pumpkin centerpieces. Clean out a pumpkin and fill it with soil - only this time do not worry so much about the stringy flesh as it serves to fertilize the potting soil. Once filled with soil add your favorite flower be it a mum or tropical indoor plant. When the pumpkin starts to show signs of rotting, just transplant the whole thing in a traditional flower pot or, if it's a perennial plant, straight into the ground outside.
* Pumpkin soup stock. Most people use chicken and beef as a source of soup stock but the guts of a pumpkin make an excellent stock for vegetable soups. Just remove the seeds from the guts of the pumpkin and put the guts into a pot and fill it with water. Now add the veggies: celery, carrots, whatever other aromatic vegetables you like. It should boil for approximately 30 minutes. When the stock begins to change color, pour it through a strainer. The stock can be used for soups, sauces and a variety of other recipes.
* Pumpkin candles. Mini pumpkins make for great candles. Just hollow them out and add a candle or fill it with melted soy wax, beeswax or the gel type of candle wax sold at most craft stores. Once the hot wax is in the pumpkin, add your favorite scent and a wick (also sold at most craft stores).
* Pumpkin compost. Because they are rich in zinc and vitamins A and C, as well as other nutrients, instead of tossing your rotted pumpkins into the trash toss them into your backyard compost bins to further replenish the soil.
* Pumpkin puree. From baked goods and soups to pie and cheesecake - pumpkin puree can be used in a variety of recipes. To make pumpkin puree, follow the same directions previously given, only once it's cleaned out turn it upside down and place on a cookie sheet. Pour a little water on the pan and bake it at 350 F for about 90 minutes. The skin will become tender and easy to peel from the flesh. Toss the skin in the trash and the flesh into a food processor and blend until you have puree. If you plan on making puree, however, you'll want a sweet-tasting pumpkin rather than a sweet-looking pumpkin such as those in the pumpkin patch. Ask for sugar pie, red kuri, cheese, rouge or blue Hokkaido pumpkins.
* Pumpkin cauldron. Take your jack-o-lantern one step further by turning it into a spooky billowing cauldron. Simply carve your pumpkin and set a large glass jar into the center of it. Then add dish soap and hot water to the jar along with a piece of dry ice. Kids will love the spooktacular effect created by the bubbles and smoke that will come pouring out.
Gina Joseph is a reporter and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on twitter @ginaljoseph and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.