By the middle of September you already have a pretty good idea which pumpkin is going to be your prize winner this year. The big one with the round smooth face will make a perfect jack-o-lantern come October, as will the tall skinny one that seems to call out "Pick me!" as you gaze out over this year's pumpkin patch with childlike anticipation.
So after you've picked the best pumpkins to carve and display, what do you do with the rest of them? I've discovered some interesting and unique ways to use up every last bit of your pumpkin crop this year.
Everyone knows you can toast and eat pumpkin seeds, but did you know you can also sprout them? First soak them by placing them in a glass jar with just enough tepid water to cover them. Cover the jar with cheesecloth, holding the cheesecloth in place with a rubberband at the neck of the jar. Let the seeds set in the water overnight to make sure they're nice and soft.
The next morning, drain the water from the jar by gently turning the jar upside down until all of the moisture is gone. Place the jar out of the light (in a closet or cabinet). The temperature should remain at about 70 degrees. Rinse the seeds in the jar 4 to 6 times a day. After 3 days you should have approximately 1/4-inch sprouts. Rinse them once more and set the jar in a sunny window for about a day until the sprouts grow tiny leaves. Eat them in salads, sandwiches, or add them to soups and casseroles. They're very healthy and easy to make!
You can also make flour out of fresh pumpkin. Cut the raw pumpkin into chunks, cut off the skin the best you can and dry in the oven. Grind the dried pumpkin in the blender or a food mill. Use pumpkin flour as a partial substitute for all-purpose flour in your favorite breads and other baked goods. Store in an airtight container.
Last but not least, why wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Try these easy quick bread recipes. Quick breads are easy to prepare because you don't have to mess around with yeast and waiting for the dough to rise. You just mix a few ingredients together in a bowl, pour into a loaf pan, and bake! It's really that easy.
Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
* 2 eggs, beaten slightly
* 2 cups sugar
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 1 cup cooked pumpkin
* 2 1/4 cups flour
* 1 cup chopped cranberries
* 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, and pumpkin, mixing well. Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the batter and add the pumpkin.
Stir in cranberries. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour.
* 2/3 cup shortening
* 3 cups sugar
* 4 eggs, well beaten
* 1 1/4 cups cooked pumpkin
* 2/3 cup water
* 3 1/2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/2 teaspoon cloves
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* Chopped nuts (optional)
Mix all ingredients together and pour into two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour.
Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of What's for Dinner?, an e-cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For more recipes, gardening, organizing tips, home decorating, holiday hints, and more, visit Creative Homemaking at http://www.creativehomemaking.com.