Late October is peak pumpkin time. From breakfast-ready Paleo pumpkin bread to dessert-perfect pies (duh), there’s no shortage of delish recipes you can make with the good-for-you pulp.
But the squash isn’t exactly the easiest to work with. For starters, how do you even go about picking a pumpkin in the first place—one that’s sure to taste delicious and can double as a jack-o-lantern?
Kathryne Taylor, the vegetarian blogger behind Cookie+Kate and author of Love Real Food, has got the scoop. Here, she shares her tips for getting the absolute most out of pumpkin season, from safely cutting into the gourd to separating the seeds from those pesky guts, and every ooey-gooey step in between. She’s a seasoned—and seasonal—pro.
Keep reading Cookie+Kate’s Kathryne Taylor shares her six best pumpkin prepping tips.
1. Size does matter—but maybe not how you would think
Your instinct may be to hunt down the plumpest pumpkin in the patch, but Taylor says bigger isn’t always better. The Cinderella-style variety may look festive on your porch, but its insides are meager and tough. Instead, she suggests using sugar pumpkins—a smaller variety with workable insides. The goodness you scoop out of these beauties will be perfect for whipping up a batch of pumpkin protein bars.
2. Use gloves if you have sensitive skin
For people with sensitive skin, diving elbow-deep into a vat of pumpkin guts isn’t exactly ideal—Taylor knows first-hand. “Sometimes the acidity of the pumpkin’s insides irritates my skin,” she says. When in doubt, wear latex gloves. Another pro carving tip: Use a wide serving spoon with an edge to scrape the pumpkin’s inner walls.
3. Roast first, then scoop
If you’ve ever used canned pumpkin in your morning flapjacks or smoothie bowl, you know that store-bought puree is pretty uniform in texture. But when you’re starting from scratch, Taylor says to keep in mind that results may vary. “What I’ve learned about making homemade pumpkin purée is that the moisture content changes when you’re making it yourself,” she says.
With that in mind, Taylor’s best advice is to cut the pumpkin open, pull out the guts, and roast the pumpkin to bring out the flavor. Then, scoop out all the flesh from against the skin. Depending on the resulting consistency of your puree, you can adjust a given recipe for more or less wetness.
4. Use the seeds
Untangling pumpkin seeds from the grips of stringy guts requires patience (and maybe even a motivational playlist). Taylor recommends working over the sink with a strainer nearby to catch any strays that may slide down the drain. Once you’ve successfully extricated the seeds, make sure to give them an extra rinse.
Your hard labor will be worth it. According to Taylor, the seeds have high levels of magnesium and other minerals that help ease the symptoms of PMS. You can either save them to top off your favorite salad mix or roast them with a little Himalayan salt and turmeric for an anti-inflammatory, mood-stabilizing snack.
5. Spice it up
Believe it or not, pumpkins don’t taste like a PSL when they’ve first plucked from the vine. “When people think of pumpkin spice, the predominant flavor is actually the spice. Pumpkin is pretty bland by itself,” says Taylor, adding that you can’t go wrong with nutmeg, salt, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. Want to make it even creamier? Add coconut milk or a little maple syrup.
“Pumpkin dishes can be savory or sweet, but even in sweet recipes it’s important to include a little bit of salt,” Taylor says. One of her favorite ways to use pumpkin is to add it, along with some pepitas, to Mexican dishes. “It works with beans, cayenne pepper, and cheese.”
6. Think beyond pumpkin pie
At this point, pumpkin has far outgrown Thanksgiving. But according to Taylor, even using it to make a killer maple butter is just the tip of the iceberg. “You can sub it in any recipe that calls for butternut squash,” she says.
Someone else who enjoys pumpkin season just as much as you: your pets! Taylor uses the squash to make a batch of treats for her dog, Cookie. Once again, pumpkin for the win.