(Spicy) Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

by chubbywerewolf on 30 October 2011

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

When I was growing up, it was often difficult for my family to find the time to sit down together for evening meals. This is something that used to bother me tremendously, due largely to the fact that—primed on a steady diet of family-centric 70’s and 80’s sitcoms where everybody ate together all the time—I thought our meals served on tv trays, at the kitchen counter or sometimes even on-the-go were defying the natural order of the Universe. “The family on ‘Different Strokes’ always has dinner together,” I’d whine to my mother. “Why can’t we do that? And when are we going to adopt some black kids from the ghetto?”

Halloween 1981

My brother, sister and I on Halloween 1981. That's me on the far right, dressed as 80's film icon Dom DeLouise.

We did better when it came to the major holidays, but they too always had sort of a rushed, “too much going on at once” vibe thanks largely to the fact that my younger brother and sister chose Christmas Eve and the day before Thanksgiving, respectively, to emerge from the womb. Selfish pricks. Seriously, you two… its not enough that you had to be born in the first place, reducing by two-thirds the amount of affection and attention that I rightfully deserved? But you just had to take away two of the better holidays in the process? I’ll tell you one thing. Arnold and Willis wouldn’t have pulled that kind of shit.

Of course, now that I’m a man child grown man earning my own money and facing my own challenges, it is easier for me to understand and appreciate that the real reason we didn’t have dinner together often was because my parents—with three jobs between the two of them—were busting their humps to put food on the table in the first place. The fact that we were getting three tasty, well-prepared meals a day (especially when so many others my age were not) was a luxury in and of itself. And us kids, with our various clubs, play dates and athletics at all hours of the day and night, didn’t exactly make it easy to schedule those family sit-downs I fantasized about. Of course, it also helps that I eventually realized that what is depicted on television doesn’t always necessarily reflect reality. (However, the psychosis where I sat around wondering why my family couldn’t always eat dinner together has since been replaced by one where I sit around wondering why my friends aren’t as sexy, clever or impossibly happy as the characters we see on “Cougar Town” and “Happy Endings.” Sigh.)

All of that said, one holiday where we almost always managed to come together with Navy Seal-like precision was Halloween. Each year, my Mom—both adept with a sewing machine and immeasurably creative—would start making our costumes weeks in advance. Many kids had to settle for cheap-looking vinyl and plastic costumes from the corner store (“Hey look!” I’m the Six Million Dollar Man! You know this because I have a mask that looks nothing like Steve Austin affixed to my head with a cheap rubber band that will snap after 20 minutes!”). Never us. We could pretty much always rely on Mom to make whatever costume we wanted. That was true, even when the end product was confusing or slightly scandalous. (Or both, such as the year I dressed as a Jawa, complete with blackface… a costume which many people in my town—clearly ignorant in the ways of “Star Wars”—interpreted as some sort of bizarre, political statement about Franciscan Monks.)

Dad did his part as well. A week or so before Halloween, we would bring home pumpkins and set about to carving them into jack o’lanterns. By “we” I pretty much mean my Dad, who was the only one in the family strong enough to cut through the tough pumpkin skin, and courageous enough to pull out glob after glob of “guts” while we squealed with horrific delight. As if that were not enough for the poor man to endure, he then had to take direction from three miniature Lars Von Triers, barking out one arcane demand after another. “Daddy! The eyes are not hideous enough! The pumpkin should look as though he has just discovered that his wife is actually his sister!” Or, “Daddy! I’ve changed my mind! That tooth that I just told you to cut out of the jack o’lantern’s mouth… I want you to put it back!” Or “Daddy! I want to carve the pumpkin! Please let me carve the pumpkin! Please, I can do it!” (Followed thirty seconds later by the ever-popular, “Daddy! My hand is tired! Can you finish carving the pumpkin??? Please???”)

The carving technique that changed the world and redefined a holiday: my Dad's famous "v-cut." Seriously, how is it that you are not impressed by this?

The carving technique that changed the world and redefined a holiday: my Dad's famous "v-cut." Seriously, how is it that you are not impressed by this?

Incidentally, it was my Dad (who did not get to celebrate enough Halloweens before he passed away in 1992) who taught me what  I regard as the single-greatest pumpkin carving tip of all-time. Correctly realizing that Jack O’Lantern Lid Confusion™ was as real and as dire a crisis as AIDS or world hunger, he developed a simple technique that eliminated those costly and confusing seconds where one struggles to cap their jack o’lantern after installing and lighting the candle. As you can see from the photo to the right, it is a simple matter of making a v-shape in the otherwise round’ish incision (for the sake of aesthetics, make the v-cut on the “back” of your jack o’lantern). This way, when you’re placing the lid on your pumpkin, you simply line up the v’s and, voila, you’ve saved like two seconds of your life. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but if you add it all up (two seconds per candle lighting per each Halloween) then you’ve easily accumulated enough time to eat a piece of toast or come up with an engaging and memorable headline for your blog entry, like “(Spicy) Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.”

Ah yes, pumpkin seeds. I was getting back to that. Once the “guts” were removed from each pumpkin, they made their way into the kitchen where my Mom had the unenviable task of sorting through them and removing as many seeds as she could. Then, she’d wash the seeds before roasting them in the oven accompanied by some combination of salt, butter and/or oil.

Truth be told, I don’t remember eating a lot of pumpkin seeds as a kid. I have a feeling that most of them were probably consumed by my Dad (his reward for a job well done on the jack o’lantern front). But I do remember how great the kitchen would smell on those cool autumn days just before Halloween. And its largely that memory that motivates me, year after year, to spend a little bit of extra time separating pumpkin seeds from pumpkin pulp in pursuit of a salty, zesty treat.

I was going to provide an actual “recipe” for making roast pumpkin seeds. But honestly, its kind of a hard thing to fuck up. (C’mon, its not like we’re making bœuf bourguignon here.) So instead, let me just outline a few of the particulars of my process, which has evolved a bit in recent years.

First, lets talk about seed separation. I think the reason more people don’t roast their own pumpkin seeds is because they don’t want to deal with the messy hassle of separating the seeds from all of the other gunk. But done right, it doesn’t need to be that messy or time-consuming. When I’m cleaning out my pumpkin, I just transfer all of the guts to a large plastic bowl. Take the bowl to the kitchen (if you’re not there already) and set up a colander underneath your kitchen faucet, cool water running. Remove the guts one handful at a time. Separate the seeds from the pulp as best you can over the colander (the water will aid in separating them), with the seeds going in the colander and the pulp bound for a trash can, garbage disposal or compost heap. It doesn’t need to be perfect, for reasons that you’ll learn in a moment.

Pumpkin seeds, pre- and post-rinse.

Pumpkin seeds, pre- and post-rinse.

Once you’ve emptied your bowl, you should be left with a colander that is filled mostly with seeds but also some of the remaining gunk. At this point, just mix the seeds around under the running water and fish out any larger chunks of pulp you encounter. The movement will also assist in washing smaller pieces through the holes in the colander.

Until recently, I would have simply allowed the seeds to dry and then put them directly in the oven. But a few years ago, I encountered on the Internet a preparation method whereby the seeds are first boiled in salt water. The difference that it makes is, in my opinion, well worth the extra effort.

For each half cup of seeds, you want 2 cups of water. And for each cup of water, you want a half tablespoon of salt. (Yes, I said a half tablespoon.) In my case, I had 2 cups of seeds, meaning that I used 8 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of salt. Yes, that seems like a ton of salt, but I think the principle behind it is probably similar to how salt potatoes are prepared.

In terms of the impact on taste, I think that what the boiling of the seeds accomplishes is that it seasons the seed itself whereas the roasting-only method really only seasons the shell. I’ll confess that—as much as I love the seeds—the shells have never really appealed to me that much, so my technique for eating pumpkin seeds involves cracking the shell open with my teeth, removing the seed with my tongue and spitting out the shell. As a man, I’m pretty sure that I’m not supposed to admit that I don’t love chewing through those sharp, splintery shells (ditto for sunflower seeds). But then again, I’m pretty sure I forfeited my man card around the time I made my first “Cougar Town” reference.

Anyway, boil your seeds for 15-20 minutes. You’ll notice that the boiling water washes any last trace of orange pulp off the seeds. Then, drain the seeds in your colander (which you’ve hopefully cleaned while the seeds were boiling). Let them rest there for a few minutes (make sure you’ve drained as much water as possible) before pouring them out in a single layer on a flat surface, such as a baking sheet. The seeds need to sit and dry for some amount of time. That amount of time seems to vary, depending on who you ask. I can tell you that I’ve gotten the best results from seeds that I allowed to sit overnight. But if you’re in a hurry, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use a hair dryer to dry them faster. (Just make sure its set on low, or you risk blowing seeds all over the kitchen.) If you have an oven that you can set to 125° or lower for 40 minutes to an hour, I’m betting that too would be fine.

Once your seeds are dry, transfer them to a mixing bowl. (Preheat your oven to 350° at this time.) Add some melted butter to the seeds (I used 1.5 tablespoons of butter for two cups of seeds) and season according to preference. I’ve really gotten into spicy pumpkin seeds in recent years, and this year my spice mixture looked something like this:

  •  a drizzle of Worchestire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • a few shakes of seasoned salt
Pumpkin seeds, pre-oven.

Pumpkin seeds, pre-oven.

You could use garlic salt instead of garlic powder. Just remember that you’ve technically already salted your seeds once, and that both Worchestire sauce and seasoned salt contain sodium. But do what makes you happy. In terms of taste, your sensibilities are undoubtedly a bit different than mine.

Thoroughly mix the seeds, butter and spice mixture together. Then, using a paper towel, very lightly grease your baking sheet with vegetable or olive oil. Spread the seeds out on the baking sheet in a single layer and insert into your preheated oven. Give them a stir after around 10-15 minutes. You should remove them when they are a toasty-brown color. In my case, that was after a total cook time of around 35 minutes. But ovens will vary (as will the dryness of the seeds, depending on how long you’ve allowed them to rest).

While my seeds were cooling, I hit them one more time with a few shakes of cayenne pepper. They are definitely on the spicy side this year, but I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and there hasn’t been a trip to or from the kitchen that hasn’t been accompanied by me munching on a few seeds from the bowl (keep them uncovered to maintain dryness).

With the whacky weather this year, I’m not altogether sure how my Halloween will play out. But I suspect that it will involve me eating all of the candy I bought for trick-or-treaters handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, shuffling downtown for a drink or late dinner and then returning home for my annual Halloween night DVD marathon (“John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “Trick ‘R Treat” and Carpenter’s “Halloween,” in that order). The movies will run late into the night, as is my tradition, and they will be accompanied by spicy pumpkin seeds, my remaining bottles of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and fond memories of Halloweens gone by.

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

When I was staging this photo, I thought it would look like the little white pumpkin was impressed by my bowl of pumpkin seeds. Instead, it seems like he's just sort of terror-stricken by the spectre of candy-induced Diabetes... which is probably more accurate anyway.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Missy February 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm

I was surfing the internet looking for seasoned pumpkin seeds when I came across your story. I loved it! I think I will try and make my own seasoned seeds, but with a tad less cayenne pepper. My family calls me a lightweight when it comes to seasoning. Thank you for sharing your story and recipe.

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