The first step in partying with pumpkins is to choose a pumpkin. The most fun is to roam a field of pumpkins and pull your choice off the vine, but a pumpkin from the supermarket will work too. The second step is to carve your pumpkin or paint it, so that it’s transformed into a jack-o-lantern!
Draw a face or a Halloween picture on the pumpkin with a black marker. Or you can draw your design on lightweight paper. Tape the paper against the pumpkin, design up. Transfer your design to the pumpkin by poking a toothpick into the pumpkin along the lines of your design. (When you remove the paper, the toothpick holes will show you where to cut.) You can cut a simple face in the pumpkin with a paring knife, but for more elaborate designs, you might buy a little “pumpkin saw” that can cut curves. Design templates and pumpkin carving tools are sold at craft stores.
Before carving or painting, cut a notched lid from the top of the pumpkin and remove all of the pumpkin seeds and stringy pulp from inside the pumpkin with your hands. Separate the seeds from the pulp, wash them, and set them on paper towels to dry. Then fry them in a little oil until they are crisp and golden brown. Add salt. Eat and eat.
When your pumpkin begins to sag and pucker and collapse, it’s time to put it on your compost pile. (Be careful of analogies. We’re not going there.) When I’ve done this, three things have happened. Birds and animals feed on the pumpkin. Any remaining pumpkin creates nutrient-rich compost. And some of the seeds winter over, so that pumpkin vines appear on the compost pile the next summer. Three good things.
But when tons of pumpkins end up in landfills, it’s a different story. As they decompose, the pumpkins release methane gas, which contributes to climate warming. And the pumpkins, which are 90% water, may contaminate groundwater. This is when the pumpkin party gets really interesting – when it’s time for a Pumpkin Smash!
In the Chicago area, 93 tons of pumpkins have been diverted from landfills and converted to compost when SCARCE (School &Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education) has held community pumpkin drops. Volunteers smash the pumpkins during a variety of games before the pumpkin slush is delivered to a compost site.
A pumpkin party can occur at any time in the life cycle of a jack-o-lantern – during the carving and creating, when the seeds are cooked and eaten, when the jack-o-lanterns are lit for Halloween, and when it’s time to smash the pumpkins to smithereens!
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”