A zero waste approach to carving a Halloween pumpkin.
Halloween is not a big thing in Slovenia, because we celebrate Reformation day on the 31st of October. We have only somewhat started to celebrate Halloween in recent years, as a result of globalisation and American influence. Pumpkin carving, scary costumes, theme parties and horror movie marathons are becoming increasingly popular in the recent years, particularly amongst kids and students. We don’t go out trick or treating though, because we already have our own silly dress-up holiday called Pust, where kids go door to door asking for treats.
The origins of Halloween date quite a while back and are connected to the natural transition from the warmer, sunnier half of the year to the colder, darker half. The earliest form of Halloween as we know it today was mostly celebrated in what are now the English speaking parts of the world, although most Pagan societies of old acknowledged the natural transitions (equinoxes and solstices) and the dead in some way.
The 31st of October and the 1st of November were known as the Gaelic festival Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and was one of the 4 big Gaelic festivals of the year. The tradition of Samhain is still kept alive in in places such as Scotland and I attended the 2017 Samhuinn Fire festival in Edinburgh.
It has been suggested that the 1st of November was also the Celtic New Year and dedicated to the Celtic Sun god or to Samhain, the lord of death. The Celts believed that on the full moon before the New Year, which was usually around the 31st of October, the dead could rise and roam the Earth, so they hid behind masks and made lots of noise. When the Romans came, the Day of the Dead got a permanent date as the 1st of November. They believed that the dark god Samain killed the Sun god every year and imprisoned the nature goddess in the underworld until spring. They also believed that the dead could come back on the eve before the 1st of November, so food was left out on the doorsteps as a peace offering and all fires were symbolically left to die out during the night. A similar tradition of offering food to the dead still persists in Latin America in their Dio de los muertos celebrations, although their version of the Day of the Dead is much more cheerful, colourful and life-affirming.
The Day of the Dead became All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints day with the rise of Christianity, but the Celtic and Roman times are when the ancestors of the modern day Halloween carved pumpkins make an appearance. Some people would carve out turnips, beetroots and later on also potatoes and put tiny candles in them to scare away the bad spirits and light the path for the good ones (turnip carvings are truly the stuff of nightmares! see here). The scary pumpkin carvings we know today did not become popular until the 16th century in Northern America and are known as the Jack-o-lanterns, associated with the legend of the Stingy Jack. The legend says that Stingy Jack was an Irishman, who tricked the Devil (more than once) so he wouldn’t have to pay for his drink. When he died he was obviously not allowed into Heaven, but he was barred from Hell as well, and the Devil sent him back to Earth as a wandering soul, with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal in a carved turnip and became known as Jack of the lantern – Jack O’Lantern. Turnips turned into pumpkins, trick or treating for candy became a thing in the U. S., horror movie franchises made a ton of money and the rest is history.
Personally, I consider the modern day Halloween a commercialised nonsense, similar to Valentine’s day, but parts of it do have their charm and I am not too high and mighty to enjoy them. So, my boyfriend and I decided to have a Halloween-inspired pumpkin day the Sunday before Halloween, thanks to my mother, who saw some giant pumpkins in the market and offered to buy us one.
We got a huge pumpkin and named him Frank. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we set out to carving Frank’s brains out on the terrace (yes, the whole thing is meant to be creepy). Since I’m big on the whole zero waste, i.e. less waste life, we then made a ton of food out of Frank’s insides, because his skin was sadly inedible.
Step 5: make all the food!
We decided to really try and use all parts of Frank, which yielded quite a lot of food and took a bit of experimenting.
Dried/roasted pumpkin seeds
I’ve been eating pumpkin seeds for as long as I can remember and they were almost always green. I had occasionally seen the white ones before, but I always kind of assumed that they came from a different sort of pumpkin. Well, it turns out that the green ones are just peeled white (normal) pumpkin seeds and that most pumpkin seeds are edible and look the same. I felt like a complete idiot when my boyfriend told me, but well, better late than never… We planned to dry the seeds in the oven over time at low temperature, but we ended up roasting them out of impatience instead, and they turned out delicious.
The first thing we made out of Frank was pumpkin soup, because we were super hungry by the time we were done with the pumpkin carving and it was the fastest to make. We made it with caramelised onion, fresh ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, pimento and cayenne pepper.
The next thing we made for our Sunday lunch was pumpkin risotto. We went with a mixture of white and wild rice, chicken fillets, onions, saffron, nutmeg, garlic powder, black pepper, turmeric and parmesan. Since Frank was huge, we made enough for the next day as well, which is saying something, because my boyfriend eats a lot.
Bonus photos of the obligatory salad with every meal, with pumpkin seed oil of course, and some leftover Frank meat that we put in the freezer for lazier days ahead.
Pumpkins usually have a sort of slimy, porous not-entirely-pumpkin-meat thing that the seeds are stored in, which is usually tossed out or given to pigs as feed. Since we don’t have pigs, we decided to try and use that as well. We tried to make pumpkin gnocchi, which was a bit of a failed experiment, because there was so much pumpkin slime that we run out of flour even after mixing in a whole kilogram. We mixed in lots of eggs, salt and nutmeg, as well as all the blended pumpkin slime and some pumpkin meat and it was so runny, we had to put it in the fridge and leave it for a day to go buy more flour, because the shops were already closed at the time.
After buying more flour (another freaking kilogram!) the mixture got kind of thick enough to cook in boiling water, but they turned out more like giant egg spätzle than gnocchi and they are a bit dense because of too much flour. They actually tasted surprisingly OK after we cooked them – the pumpkin flavour is more subtle than anything, but at least they taste a bit like nutmeg and ae nicely coloured. We ate them with cream and nutmeg sauce and froze the rest of the pumpkin-gnocchi-fail-dough. Apparently we’ll be eating them until Christmas…
We also planned to make pumpkin muffins, but we kind of forgot about it and tossed all the pumpkin meat into the risotto (oh well). What’s your favourite pumpkin food?