In my last post, I explained how to prepare pumpkin for use in recipes. But I totally forgot about the best part of the pumpkin: the seeds.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are as much a tradition in New England cuisine as lobster, salt cod, and maple syrup. In convenience stores and truck stops up here, you're as likely to find packages of prepared pumpkin seeds as you are sunflower seeds.
When we were kids, we didn't often cook pumpkin down for the pulp. As I mentioned in the earlier post, my mom and my grandmother before her always bought One Pie canned pumpkin, just like I do now. But we always carved pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, and that means scooping out the strings and seeds. While my brother and sisters and I would carve faces into the hollow gourds, Mom would roast the seeds in the oven. The smell of roasting pumpkin seeds would drive us crazy, and when they were ready we would barely let them get cool enough to handle before we'd be crunching them.
Here's how to prepare homemade pumpkin seeds:
- Lay out some newspaper to work on.
- Scoop the strings and seeds from the center of the pumpkin onto the newspaper.
- Pinch the seeds between your fingers to separate them from the strings. As you pinch the seeds free, drop them into a strainer.
- When all the seeds have been removed from the goopy strings, you can just roll up the newspaper and compost the whole thing, or otherwise discard it. A few years ago when I had chickens, I would give the strings to the chickens for a treat. They loved that stuff so bad.
- Turn your attention to the seeds. Under cool running water, wash the slimy feeling off the seeds. Just rub them around with your fingertips as the water runs over them. It will take five minutes or so; the object is to clean off any remaining strings or bits of pulp.
- The seeds should be dried before roasting them. If you have lots of time, you can spread them out on a clean cloth and leave them out in the air overnight. Otherwise, you can kind of towel them mostly dry with a clean towel. No matter how you choose to dry them, don't use paper towels or newspaper. When the seeds get dry, the paper will stick to them, and paper tastes kind of gross even when cooked.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Get a big shallow baking sheet or jelly roll pan and pour in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Then dump in the dried seeds and swirl them around until all the seeds are coated lightly with oil. Spread the seeds out until they're in a single layer in the pan. Salt them generously. You know what's even better than regular salt for these? Celery salt.
- Slide the tray into the preheated oven and roast them for about 15 minutes. Take them out and stir them around every 5 minutes. They will start lightly browning in about 10 minutes or so, but you want them to be a little darker than golden brown. Go more than 15 minutes if you have to. The outside hulls will be deliciously toasted and crispy and quite nice to eat as long as you don't try to fill your mouth with them all at once.
- Taste a couple of them and add salt or seasonings to fit your taste.
- Dump the seeds onto absorbent paper to take off excess oil if necessary.
- Enjoy your delicious snackery.
Commercially-prepared pumpkin seeds are toasted and thickly coated with salt. The hulls are inedible - only the kernels inside are good - and so, they are eaten like sunflower seeds, with lots of biting and spitting. But home-roasted pumpkin seeds are different. The hulls kind of oven-fry and get crunchylicious - as long as you don't try to eat too many of them at one time. Being a glutton will cause the excess of hulls to get pulped into an indigestible bolus by your molars and you'll get grossed out. Enjoy the seeds one or two at a time and you'll be amazed at how excellent they are.