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Pumpkin Carving and Pumpkin Pie, the Sustainable Way

Celebrate this Halloween by carving a path to more sustainable living with a pumpkin.

If you haven't already, it's high time to dig out those dusty pumpkin carving tools and start the gooey process, yet again. This year, I wanted to do something a bit different, so I set out to wonder how we can give greater meaning to this annual tradition of pumpkin carving. How can we make our pumpkin be in the spirit of Halloween and sustainability?

The Native Americans utilized resources to their fullest capacities: they hunted buffalo, ate the meat for food, wore the hide for warmth, used the bones for jewelry and tools. They respected and honored what the Buffalo provided.

As the Native American Indians took only what they needed from the land and gave back to it in closed-loop systems, I have done the same on a small scale with my pumpkin project.

Here’s how my journey unfolded:

First, I purchased two medium-sized pumpkins from Trader Joe's for about $6. Then I purchased a few ingredients for the pie at Smart and Final, where the flour and brown sugar can be purchased in economic bulk.

While the flour was a great buy, they did not have the "pumpkin pie spice," as the recipe calls for, so I just settled for the common ground cinnamon they carry which was still tasty. All in all, I probably spent about $15 on ingredients and pumpkins. 

Now, let's carve. I carved the top of the pumpkin out with carving tools I got many years ago from those pumpkin carving kits you can buy at the grocery store. These kits provide many stencils that will last for years to come and tools that do the job right. These kits range from $2-4, and using a regular kitchen blade can be difficult and even dangerous. 

I then gutted my pumpkin and put the dangly-seedy portions in a separate container. After this was all taken out. I began to hollow my pumpkin with the scraper tool. I call this soft peachy-orange part "the meat" of the pumpkin. This will be the main filling ingredient that I'll use to make pumpkin pie. I put these remains into yet another separate container. 

While the recipe calls for 1 sugar pumpkin, which is basically a sweeter, smaller-size pumpkin, a medium carving pumpkin will taste just dandy once we add all the brown sugar and cinnamon. Also, since I am carving the shell of the pumpkin for decoration, instead of cutting the pumpkin up and baking it in the oven, as the recipe instructs, I just place the "meat" of the pumpkin that I carve out into a baking pan and into the oven for 30 or 40 minutes so it becomes soft and tender. 

While that is baking, I prepare my crust following this simple recipe. I set the ball of dough in the fridge for an hour or so, and start carving a design into my pumpkin. By this time the pumpkin "meat" should be tender, so I take a break from my carving and take out the contents to puree using a blender. Then I simply continue with the recipe.

After the liquid filling is ready and all mixed, I take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for 5 minutes or so before I work on it. I reuse a glass bottle as a rolling pin, then ladle the pie filling into the pie crust and presto, we've got a pumpkin pie. That is, after 50 minutes or so of baking. While you wait, you can go ahead and finish carving your masterpiece

This project is to be savored, requiring lots of time, thought and multi-tasking. I broke this project up into three days, leaving the dough overnight, baking the second pie on the second day, and roasting the pumpkin seeds on day three. You could opt to just carve one pumpkin and bake one pie, but where's the fun in that?

I feel quite accomplished, having carved two pumpkins, baked two pumpkin pies, roasted a ton of seeds, added left-over pumpkin guts to my compost and saved seeds to add to my seed bank. I can now share these seeds with my friends and plant my own pumpkins, so I'll never have to buy one again! This zero-waste project is not only sustainable environmentally, but also economically. I invested $15 in two pumpkins and a few other ingredients, but got so much more in return.

The most invaluable aspect of my project was in the sharing. I gave one of my carved pumpkins to my beloved Yoga Cove, a local yoga studio in Monrovia, stirring much excitement and appreciation. Although a small gesture, I felt like I gave back to my community and contributed somehow.

I also gave one of my pies to my grandparents who live close-by, giving me a chance to just sit and catch up over some tea and pie. Leaving some roasted seeds in my Dad’s work cabinet for him to find, allowed me to show him I care, and hopefully allowed him a pocket of space to enjoy something. 

In the end, over the course of a few days, I was able to devour the delicious fruits of my labor, while reconnecting to my food source, having a greater appreciation for each bite, supporting my local economy, giving back to my local community, giving back to my own garden, preserving biodiversity, and rekindling my love for Halloween and all it has to offer. Who knew all the riches a few pumpkins and a new approach, could bring?

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