How to Have Your Jack-o-lantern and Eat It Too


When I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones and Butter a few years ago, one passage that resonated with me concerned a technique she learned about getting every last ounce of egg white out of the shell by swiping it with her thumb. It’s a frugal maneuver. Fail to wipe the shell clean, and you’re wasting food.

I store just-about-empty bottles of salad dressing upside down and take a silicon spatula to the sides of mayonnaise jars to get every last bit, behavior that my husband Andy points to as proof of my New-Englandness. So I have always had mixed feelings about Jack-o-lanterns. 

Jack-o-lanterns are fun. Pumpkins are food. If you carve that 15 lb pumpkin and stick a candle in it, it isn’t safe to eat anymore. Even though the big carving pumpkins aren’t as tasty as the small sugar pumpkins, it feels profligate to toss one in the trash (or even the compost bin).

The solution is messy and, depending on the size and quantity of your pumpkins, can be time-consuming. But it’s become an annual ritual here. After you cut off the top and remove the seeds and strings, scrape as much of the flesh from the shell as you can, and put it in a big bowl. Carve the pumpkin (it’s easier when you’ve truly hollowed it out), then  trim the flesh from the cut-out pieces and the top. Even if you’re not very diligent, you’ll probably get enough out of a 10-15 lb pumpkin to make soup and a pie or batch of muffins.

We carved two large pumpkins this year. I diced up the pieces I’d pared off the lids and cut-outs to make made a version of Nigella Lawson’s Norwegian Pumpkin Soup. I had some chunks left, so while the soup was simmering I tossed them in olive oil and salt and roasted them in a 400° oven until tender—15-20 mins (Andy took this for lunch with a burrito the next day). Then I put the scraped out bits in a large pot on medium heat to cook down into a purée (more on this below, following the soup recipe).

If you still have an uncarved pumpkin sitting around, you can practice for next year. Don’t forget to roast the seeds.

Cheesy Pumpkin Soup

4 servings

A nutty cheese like Jarlsberg (in Nigella’s original), Gruyere (which she also recommends), or Gouda (what I used) and a sprinkling of fried sage and chopped, toasted nuts can compensate for any lack of pumpkin intensity.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or more as needed
  • 5 cups 1/2-inch cubed pumpkin (about 1 1/2 pounds whole, if you haven’t just carved a Jack-o-Lantern
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups hot chicken stock
  • 3 cups grated Gouda cheese
  • Optional: a few leaves fresh sage, fried, and a small handful of toasted nuts (I like hazelnuts), all chopped finely for garnish.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and sauté until softened, 5 minutes. Add pumpkin and nutmeg, and stir well to coat. Sauté 5 minutes more, stirring to prevent browning.

Heat the stock in a separate pot on the stove or in a large glass measuring cup in the microwave. Add the hot stock to the skillet, and bring to a boil. Partly cover with a lid, and simmer until pumpkin is tender, about 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, toast nuts in a dry pan and chop. Fry sage leaves in a little oil and chop.

Pour the soup into a large bowl. Stir in 2 cups grated cheese, a handful at a time so it doesn’t clump (mine did anyway, but it recovered after the puréeing and reheating steps, next).

Cool the mixture for about 15 minutes. In a blender, purée the soup in batches. Return the purée to a clean saucepan, and reheat on medium-low. Adjust salt to taste, and ladle into soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with the remaining cheese, and a sprinkle of sage and hazelnuts.

In a blender, purée the soup in batches. Return the purée to a clean saucepan, and reheat on medium-low. Adjust the salt to taste, and ladle into soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with the remaining cheese, and a sprinkle of sage and hazelnuts.

Pumpkin Purée for Pie and Other Baked Things

This is easy. Just put the pumpkin scrapings into a big pot and turn on the heat to medium. Give it a stir every couple of minutes at the beginning to keep the pumpkin from sticking to the bottom. The pumpkin will start to release water. When it does, lower the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until the pumpkin becomes a deep orange and there is little to no liquid pooling in the pot when you stir it. Depending on how much pumpkin you have, this may take an hour or more, but you can do other things in the meantime.

Do not season the pumpkin, with salt or anything else. You’ll want to season it or sweeten it according to whatever recipe you use it in.

Mash up any chunks and let the pumpkin cool completely. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or a few layers of paper towels, place over a bowl and drain the remaining liquid. This last step can wait until the next day; just refrigerate the pumpkin until you’re ready. In fact, you can store the raw pumpkin in the refrigerator for a day or two if you don’t have time right away to make the purée.

Use the purée in baked goods. I’ve measured out what I’ll need for our Thanksgiving pie and put it in the freezer. This year’s pumpkins rendered enough purée for one loaf of pumpkin bread (I like Simply Recipes’ version), too.


One thought on “How to Have Your Jack-o-lantern and Eat It Too

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