Halloween is coming up and many are starting to pick out pumpkins to carve for jack-o-lanterns.
This tradition in many families where parents and children get to have fun at the kitchen table together in a different way than other times of the year. The closest I can liken it to is coloring eggs for Easter.
The goal in my family has always been to design the spookiest or just goofiest jack-o-lantern we can.
Everyone gets into the act. My husband and I wield the knife while our son gives us direction. He is 14 now and likely could handle the cutting part just fine but I guess I’m over protective. Pumpkins are hard for my husband and me to cut, so for peace of mind, I prefer to have the adults risk digits being chopped off should something slip.
They have safety knife sets they sell at the stores this time of year but they never seem to cut as well as one of my nice big kitchen knives. Sort of like trying to cut fabric with safety scissors, it’ll work but not easily or well.
Besides, I rather do the cutting than stick my hand inside all that goop. I hate the guts part of it. It just tips my gross out meter a little too much for some reason. This started as a child but even now as an adult it gets to me. So generally, I let my son take care of that part and he really seems to have fun making faces at me and telling me just how slimy it is. I’m shuddering just thinking about it.
A nice jack-o-lantern memory came to me while thinking of this column. When I was in kindergarten at Pinion Elementary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my teacher there designed a jack-o-lantern for our classroom and all of the students helped. I remember it vividly because we not only helped carve and clean out the jack-o-lantern, she brought a toaster oven to class and actually toasted the seeds that we dug out.
It was, for lack of a better way to say it, a really cool lesson.
All that hands on messy work and a treat too. It was just one of those lessons that sticks with a small child. I cannot recall her name, after all that was more than 30 years ago for me, but I do recall that day in the classroom and those pumpkin seeds toasting. I even recall the scent of it all these years later.
Now the history of the jack-o-lantern goes way back to Ireland, but I’ll save that story for another time. The legend though from that original Irish folk tale spread throughout Scotland and England and was brought to the America’s with the settlers who found pumpkins grown by Native American’s were much easier to carve and larger than the turnips, beets and potatoes they used to carve in their homelands. Thus, the pumpkin became the "official" jack-o-lantern fruit.
Oh and I just realized that some have asked in the past what exactly is a pumpkin? Is it a fruit or a vegetable or some other classification? It is a fruit. According to experts on the subject it is the very reason it has seeds inside that it is classified a fruit.
I have talked about roasted pumpkin seeds in previous columns but those were all seasoned. Here is just the basics of roasting them, you can add your own flavors if you like.
On their own, roasted pumpkin seeds have a nutty flavor and are great sources of protein and fiber. Pumpkin seeds can be toasted and salted or flavored with sweet and/or savory spices as you see fit. Experiment a little, especially if your original plan was just to toss them out.
How to Roast
1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings.
This is the hardest part but easier if you do it when they are first removed and don’t wait for the pulp to dry which can be just like a heavy glue or cement when it dries, making the seeds almost impossible to clean.
2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. If you prefer an even healthier method, omit the oil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. If you are a butter lover, omit the oil and coat the seeds in melted butter before baking.
3. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes. See below for other suggestions than just salt sprinkles.
4. Let cool and store in an air-tight container.
You can try a number of different spice combinations. You can also try garlic salt instead of regular, season salt or other seasonings you like. Or if you want sweet flavors you can try sugar or even a salt and sugar blend or cinnamon and sugar blend is quite good on them.
Tips: I have had a few other cooks mention after cleaning the pumpkin seeds, boiling them in salted water for 20 minutes and then spreading them on a cookie sheet overnight to dry out before roasting them lets the flavor of the salt "soak" into the seeds better and cleans the seeds better than just rinsing them with tap water.