“Dad, when was the last time we roasted pumpkin seeds?” mourned our resident tween, Graham. He said it with such sorrow it felt like a dagger to my heart. His icy words triggered a feeling of poor parenting on my part. I guess it stung because, as a young man now wiser to the world far more than a year ago, he sees it as the responsibility of the person in the house who holds the title of Cuisine Editor to make certain these traditions stay alive. To him, it falls squarely on my shoulders.
If it matters, we didn’t roast pumpkin seeds last year because we were celebrating Halloween at his grandmother’s house. I can’t be blamed for dropping the ball. These carved pumpkins don’t last very long when Mobile has a warm holiday; plus, we knew we wouldn’t be here to toss them. The rotting carcass of a gourd with a hill country smile and angry eyes is no fun cleaning up once the rigor mortis unleashes its taught grasp. If I have to get the shovel and the water hose to clean a pumpkin mess, I’m not happy.
So, this year we will restart the tradition, but Graham has to help. I’ve got a couple of old newspapers lying around since recycling has been on hold (just reopened!), and that boy needs to get elbow-deep in some slime. He’s got to earn that snack if he wants to blame someone for missing the mark.
If you don’t have a personal method — or if you are some newcomer or maybe a weirdo who never carved a pumpkin nor roasted a seed — then allow me to share some of our tricks to achieve these treats. First, you can cut the pumpkin from the top or the bottom. The top is most common, but it’s harder to light the candle once you put it inside. If you cut from the bottom, be certain to make the base wide enough so the outer flesh doesn’t collapse around it. This WILL eventually happen if you wait too long to toss it, but you’ll be fine for a couple of days.
We start by dumping all of the gunk onto newsprint and roughly separating the seeds from the stringy slime. The jack-o’-lantern will last longer if you scrape a decent layer from the insides. Growing up, we used a serving spoon, big, clumsy and inefficient. Try using an ice cream scoop for cleaning those innards. It’s much easier to handle, and a good one gives you sturdy leverage.
Put the filthy seeds in a large mixing bowl cover them with water. You’ll now have no trouble pinching them away from the orange garbage that by now has puckered your fingers. Toss them in a colander for more rinsing, then dry them on a deep-rimmed baking sheet. I have impatiently used a hairdryer to expedite this step, which is why I don’t dry them on another one of my old columns spread out on the counter. The hot air can make a mess.
They have to be very dry. We aren’t steaming these things. Make sure they are dry, OK? Once dry, it’s time to season. Put them back into a clean mixing bowl. Toss these seeds whole in a drizzle of olive oil, and choose your flavors.
I’ve done cumin, chili powder, celery salt and garlic powder, but never anything sweet. You sweet-tooth folks should skip the olive oil in favor of a small amount of melted butter. Follow that with cinnamon, sugar, syrup or honey. If you want a quick fix, just spray the seeds with cooking spray and toss with seasoning salt.
We usually have multiple pumpkins, so I get to a point where I don’t want to deal with any more seeding. I can find myself looking at the kids asking, “Is this enough? Are we good?” It would be a lie to say I never threw some pumpkin guts away when no one was looking. Keep in mind, I love eating these things, too, I just get fed up with the work.
After we roast them in the shell, I’m not going to crack these things open. It’s very common to use pumpkin seeds in recipes these days, but if I’m using the kernels, it’s because someone else shelled them. It’s too much trouble when I could go to the gas station and likely find a bag of pepitas. As far as eating them goes, that’s up to you. Crack them with your teeth, if you care to, but we cook them crispy enough to eat whole.
This year, I’ll be doing the usual for a load or two and then mixing it up on subsequent runs. I’ll use some salt-free Greek seasoning, some straight Creole seasoning and a new (to me) all-purpose mix called Everglades Seasoning (evergladesseasoning.com). I got this from my friend Tim Barnhill, who instructed me to use it on roasted okra. It does have a different flavor, almost tangy, and worked wonders with the okra. Fingers crossed.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Roast your (once dry, but now tossed in olive oil and seasoning) seeds in batches of single layers on a large cookie sheet for 15 minutes, stirring after every 5 minutes. You may have to go a bit longer, but probably not more than 20 minutes. I want mine crisp. Don’t crank the heat, just let them keep roasting.
The salty ones are great by themselves as a snack, but they can also find good contrast with sweet mixes like raisins or dates. They are perfect as bar trash with other nuts or cheese curls. I think roasted pumpkin seeds are considered a fairly healthy snack, so if that scares you this Halloween, just pair them with cheap beer. That doesn’t work for Graham, though. He will be enjoying his with a boutique soda. What a connoisseur. Thanks for calling me out, Buddy.
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