Make a Pumpkin Disappear—Seeds, Skin and All

October 24, 2017

Pumpkins hold some sort of strange magic. The orange gourd belies a history of spooky transformations and mystical misuses: Cinderella’s godmother transforms one into a bespoke carriage. The headless horsemen wears one in place of his severed head. And let’s not forget the witches who have turned many an unsuspecting, and extremely unlucky, human into one.

It’s true, pumpkins are no sane squash. What other fruit would we allow children to hack into with carving knives and give weird toothless grins? The fiery cavity-ridden orbs stare us down through uneven triangle eyes.

But for all the fear and fun they inspire, pumpkins are fleshy, fragrant, and, when handled correctly, lend themselves to a diverse spread of dishes. This week, I invited a pumpkin into my kitchen for my own brand of magic. Brandishing a knife in place of a wand and a 7.25-quart Dutch oven instead of a cauldron, I determined to make said pumpkin disappear.

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Conversations of nose-to-tail cooking help me understand produce beyond its most practical and practiced uses. Besides its thick stalk and stringy inner guts, I figured I could utilize all of my pumpkin's layers: a smooth exterior protecting a soft, creamy inside, and a busy colony of hulled seeds at its center. Each element begets a bevy of uses and treatments.

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Top Comment:
“I don't care for the skins myself, but always cut them into strips, put them in the dehydrator and make pumpkin jerky for the dogs, who do enjoy the crunch.”
— qktiles

I started with a vegetable peeler, running it along the plasticky skin. What I couldn’t shave off because of the pumpkin’s shape, I carved off with a knife. I softened shavings with coconut oil, sprinkled generously with sea salt, and placed in the oven on low, low heat for hours. They emerged like dried mangos but crunchier, silkier, with a heady pumpkin taste punctuated by char. I snacked on them alone, tossed them in a salad, and layered into a lunchtime sandwich.

Seeds and skins prove to be crunchy snacks or flavorful garnishes. Photo by Valerio Farris

For the seeds, I bathed some in cinnamon, others in maple and cardamom. I dusted the rest with za’atar, cumin, or curry powder. The cumin-coated seeds worked nicely into breakfast tacos, a smoky crunch between soft scrambled eggs and fragrant chorizo. I topped my late night scoops of ice cream with the sweeter varieties. The za’atar ones I snacked on by themselves, the sesame and herbs lend the seeds a flavorful earthiness.

Last, I turned my attention to the flesh. I chopped and roasted parts of the pumpkin with a maple glaze, filled a fennel gratin with buttery pumpkin pulp, and, later, folded softened bits between tagliatelle and cream and sage for a silky weeknight pasta. That last dish sent me to bed warm and heavy.

Some early iterations of pumpkin-fueled dinners. Photo by Valerio Farris

I still have half my pumpkin’s flesh sitting in my fridge. I’m keeping my options open, some I will puree to fill a pie or bake and render as a butter. Maybe I’ll fry some and garnish with salted eggs or set my sight on this towering kale pumpkin and potato pie. Regardless of what form my last bit of pumpkin takes, what I can promise is that it will be gone. And save for the stalk, which now sits withering on my kitchen counter, it seems my magic worked.

What's your favorite pumpkin pursuit? Let us know your tricks in the comments.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Helen October 29, 2017
With so many different varieties of Pumpkin around the world, I suppose it depends on what sort you have available. Pumpkins in Australian supermarkets are all used to eat (not 'play' with) and mostly in a savoury way... Roast Pumpkin (goes really sweet and soft and my favourite is with skin on) to serve with roast potato, carrot, onions and meat, mashed pumpkin (sprinkle a bit of nutmeg in with the butter before you mash) to serve with your choice of veggies and protein for the evening meal, thick and creamy pumpkin soup (with a swirl of cream to serve) when it's cold outside... although one of my favourites would be a morning tea treat... Pumpkin Scones (shaped prior to cooking or cooked in one big slab and cut into squares afterwards) although mine never turn out as good as more experienced cooks! Pumpkin scones are best with a dark jam (strawberry, plum, raspberry etc) and cream!
The most difficult thing I find with pumpkins is cutting them through that tough skin!
lgoldenhar October 27, 2017
You used a regular Jack-o-Lantern type pumpkin? Not just a sugar pumpkin? I didn't think the Jack-o-Lantern type pumpkins were edible.
Frederique M. October 27, 2017
I have never eaten any other type of pumpkin? squash yes, but pumpkin to me is the jack o lantern type!
Frederique M. October 27, 2017
When you said "all", I was wondering about the stringy parts! But no, somethings are best left to the compost heap! I did not know about the skin though! That's pretty awsome! I ALWAYS bake my seeds with fleur de sel and olive oil and eat them like chips in front of the TV! As for the flesh, it will always make at least one pumpkin pie and a batch of pumpkin muffins. The rest gets blended into pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, ginger and cumin potage, or cubes of it go in Chilli or baked with other root veggies as a side dish. I never peel, I just cut the beast in half and bake it upside down on a cookie sheet and then scrape out the flesh in a spoon into a pasta colander and keep half, the other half gets frozen. I have even used the pumpkin that was decorating our doorstep - I no longer carve it but simply use non toxic markers to decorate it so that it can be recycled into my kitchen after halloween... why waste nature's bounty?
qktiles October 27, 2017
I grow around a hundred squashes/pumpkins in my garden every year, so always have lots of parts lying around. I don't care for the skins myself, but always cut them into strips, put them in the dehydrator and make pumpkin jerky for the dogs, who do enjoy the crunch.
foofaraw October 24, 2017
Won't the skin be sprayed with pesticide/fungicide?
qktiles October 27, 2017
Yep! Always use an organic pumpkin.