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The stores are full of them. I buy several each year. ’Tis the season for big, round, orange winter squash gourds. (You can’t have an October without at least one pumpkin article, right?) Fall embraces the color, and the closer we get to Halloween, the more orange we see, mixed with a little black, of course.
My front porch will be loaded with pumpkins certain to meet their demise from sheer neglect. One per family member, at least. Mine is the biggest, and Baby Henry’s will, of course, be the tiny one. Lucas gets a good-sized one and Graham gets a pie pumpkin. For Katie, we are tasked with finding a tall, slender specimen, free from imperfections. The boys are OK with warts and all.
Other than time, we don’t have a problem with loading the porch with jack-o’-lanterns. Sure, it’s a pain laying out the un-recycled Lagniappe pages and sticking your digits into the cold, slimy innards only to have the guts all over your patio furniture and in your hair. We don’t mind. We parade our lack of artistic skill proudly through the neighborhood, although Lucas has quite the talent for carving. So at least one out of five should be good. But that’s not why we love it.
We love it for the seeds. You may think it’s too much sugar for a dime with all the work involved. There is no getting around the messy part, but you’re already elbow deep. Go ahead and claim your reward! The best way to remove the ectoplasm-like goo from pumpkin seeds is to do it underwater. In a large pot full of cold H2O, simply dunk the roughly cleaned seeds and start pinching. The stringy stuff falls right off.
I strain them in a colander and pick any gunk off of them, and if I’m in a hurry, I blow them dry with a hair dryer.
We season them on a cookie sheet and roast them at about 250 degrees for the better part of an hour. Do them sweet or savory, ranch, buffalo, cinnamon, Mexican, lemon pepper or taco. I like the “less is more” idea of simple seasoned salt. A little oil won’t hurt, or a misting of cooking spray, but it isn’t necessary.
I’ve cooked pumpkin seeds ever since I had my own kitchen. I’ve made pumpkin pies, too, but I’ve always used canned pumpkin. This year I am vowing to make one like a real Pilgrim. I’ve done the research, and I think I can achieve some success. There is the pride of cooking like a Pilgrim at stake. I want to know if I could make something edible if I’d rubbed elbows with the pioneers, though I’m not sure where they got their canned, sweetened condensed milk. Plus, the canned pumpkin may not be what you think. Some brands take the liberty of using the word “pumpkin” as a generic term for any winter squash, and most commonly replace what is our idea of pumpkin with butternut squash.
Basically if you’re making pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread or any other recipe not involving seeds, you start with a pumpkin purée. This isn’t a difficult thing to accomplish, but you’re guaranteed poor results if you use that giant jack-o’-lantern meat, even if it came from some organic, non-GMO farmers’ market down in Hippieville. I love that place, too, but we have to search for a smoother, smaller-sized pumpkin. The bigger ones we love to carve yield a watery flesh devoid of flavor.
The one we are looking for has a sweeter, less grainy, tightly packed flesh, and due to its size is easier to bake. Some people call it a pie pumpkin (like the one I mentioned earlier), others know it as a sugar pumpkin. Sugar Pumpkin was my nickname in college, so let’s just call it that. It’s easier for me to remember.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove the stem from the sugar pumpkin and cut it in half. This is easier said than done. These little boogers can be stubborn, and depending on your cutlery collection, you may have to get creative. Any time I have harder squashes to split, say acorn, butternut or spaghetti squash, a sharp knife often won’t do it. I have a regular-sized cleaver I break out. I can tap the back of it with a mallet or hammer to safely halve the fruit. Even the sharpest knife can be dangerous in this situation, and will surely be dulled in the process.
Scoop out the seeds and clean the flesh with an ice cream scoop. I placed the two halves cut-side-down on a foil-lined cookie sheet after sprinkling them with kosher salt. Some cooks oil the skin. I did not. It may take 30 to 45 minutes to become tender. Keep checking.
Once done, remove from the oven and cool. Scoop the flesh from the skin. I hope you washed that ice cream scoop first. Process it in your Vitamix or whatever countertop contraption you prefer until smooth.
Use this with any recipe calling for pumpkin purée and you’ll feel better about yourself. Pumpkin bread is fantastic. I intend to make myself a pioneer pumpkin pie, but ended up using this batch for a soup. Live a little! Be lazy and don’t measure! I cooked onion and garlic in a little butter and added the pumpkin, chicken stock, heavy cream, a touch of cinnamon, herbs and fresh ground pepper. I garnished it with grated carrots and a sprig of flat-leaf parsley. Try it with a less-sweet Gewürztraminer.
It was more fun of an endeavor than I’d expected, and I got an early crop of seed before Halloween was upon us. Have a good time with this one. Sugar Pumpkin, out.
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