How to Process and Eat the Incredible Edible Pumpkin
…including the pumpkin flowers, leaves, seeds, and flesh
One of the many benefits of growing your own pumpkins instead of buying canned pumpkin from the grocery store, is that you can eat nearly every part of the plant, including the flowers, leaves, seeds, and flesh. Plus, if you’re like us, you might also enjoy growing unusual heirloom varieties of pumpkins while ensuring that your pumpkins don’t contain any pesticides or other synthetic chemicals that could hurt you or your family.
This blog post is intended to a quick guide to help you enjoy all the goodness offered by your home-grown pumpkin plant—or even your store bought halloween pumpkin jack-o-lantern.
How to Eat Pumpkin Flowers
We love eating various types of flowers from our garden, many of which are amazing super foods packed full of nutrition. We enjoyed eating quite a few of our pumpkin and squash flowers this summer. Sometimes we ate them straight off of the plant, sometimes we added them into a salad, and sometimes we dipped them in pancake batter and ate them for breakfast.
No matter how you eat them, you’ll enjoy knowing that a single cup of pumpkin flowers contains:
- 643 IU Vitamin A
- 9 mg Vitamin C
- 57 mg Potassium
- a host of other essential micronutrients to keep you healthy
Remember: only eat the male pumpkin flowers! Pumpkins are “monoecious,” meaning a single plant will produce both male and female flowers, allowing it to self-reproduce without another pumpkin plant. You only want to eat the male flowers—not the female flowers—to make sure your plant will grow pumpkins. Also, bees and other pollinators use the pollen from the male flowers to pollinate the female flowers, so you can either leave plenty of male flowers on the plant for them to do their work, or you can become a “pollinator” yourself by taking the harvested male flowers and rubbing their stamens against the female flower’s pistils (sorry if that sounds a bit X-rated) once you’ve harvested the flowers.
It’s easy to tell the male and female flowers apart once you’ve seen them both—the females have a bulbous base that will eventually become the pumpkin, whereas the male flowers have a small base. Like other squash, pumpkin plants always produce a good number of male flowers before they produce their first female flowers.
Once we harvest our male pumpkin flowers, we remove any of the green stem and either: 1) eat them right there in the garden, 2) add them to a salad, or 3) roll them in pancake batter and cook them in a skillet like a pancake (finished with maple syrup or berries). Pumpkin flowers have a sweet yet earthy flavor that we love.
How to Eat Pumpkin Leaves
After all of our pumpkin plants were gone for the season, we found out that their leaves are edible too. In fact, they’re even considered a delicacy in parts of Asia. We’ve never eaten them ourselves, but from what we’ve read, you’re supposed to pick the young-medium aged leaves (not the older tougher ones), and use them in cooked recipes like you would a spinach or a heavy winter green. We’ll add more info about eating pumpkin leaves next summer once we’ve tried them ourselves!
How to Prepare & Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are not only incredibly easy to make (stick them in a pan with a bit of sea salt and sunflower or other veggie oil), they’re also a great source of protein, magnesium, copper, and zinc. The oils in pumpkin seeds are also incredibly healthy for you, containing good fatty acids such as oleic aid and alpha-linolenic acid.
To harvest your pumpkin seeds, simply do the following:
- Slice open your pumpkin (to eat or to make as a jack-o-lantern).
- Scoop out the seeds with your hands or a large, sturdy spoon. Place the seeds in a bowl. *Some pumpkin varieties have seeds with white husks over the nut meat, and some just contain the green nutmeat, aka “pepitos.” We process and eat our pumpkin seeds the same way, regardless of the variety.
- Heat a frying pan and add enough high heat vegetable oil (we like sunflower or grapeseed oil) to sauté them.
- Once the pan is hot, put the pumpkin seeds in the pan. *Don’t worry if there is a little bit of pumpkin string still attached, this cooks up fine and adds some nice flavor & nutrition.
- As soon as the seeds are in the pan, add some fresh ground sea salt. Stir repeatedly to ensure light, even browning uniformly on the seeds’ surfaces. Let them cool down, but eat them while they’re still warm for best flavor! They also store for a long time and make a great, healthy alternative to potato chips.
How to Prepare & Eat Pumpkin Flesh (the “Meat” of the Plant)
Pumpkin flesh is healthy, delicious, and versatile. It can be used in a seemingly infinite variety of foods and drinks. It’s also very easy to turn a large pumpkin into usable pumpkin puree and freeze enough to last for many months. Here’s how:
- Turn your oven to Bake on 350 degrees.
- Cut your pumpkin into chunks small enough to fit on a baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with foil or parchment paper first so the pumpkin doesn’t stick when you bake it.
- Put the pumpkin chunks onto the baking sheet, skin side up/flesh side down, so that the pumpkin meat doesn’t get charred.
- Bake until the pumpkin flesh is soft (the amount of time it takes will vary depending on the size of your chunks and the type of pumpkin you’re using). A simple test to know when it’s done: you should be able to stick a fork through the biggest chunks of pumpkin without much effort.
- Remove pumpkin chunks from oven, let cool, then scoop out the meat and put the skin in compost.
- Put the pumpkin meat in a food processor and blend it until it’s smooth and chunk-free.
You now have fresh pumpkin puree that you can use immediately or freeze for later use. Enjoy!
As always, Know It or Grow It!
Aaron & Susan