By Tom Lee
For as long as I can remember, I have been told that roasted pumpkin seeds are an excellent food. Their first advocate was my mom, who insisted that pumpkin seeds are a rich source of nickel. This is the sort of things moms say and that kids roll their eyes at until, years later, they find themselves reciting the same questionable information to their own children and/or blog readership. I remain skeptical — in fact I have doubts about the importance of nickel in general, having now watched three seasons’ worth of House without witnessing a single narrowly-solved case of nickel deficiency.
But apparently it’s not just nickel that pumpkin seeds have to offer. Emily has assured me that pumpkin seeds are a superfood; shortly after she began doing so, one of them broke her back tooth, seemingly proving the point. At the very least, pumpkin seeds are formidable. They also happen to be delicious.
I know that you may not yet realize this, however. It’s not your fault: the pumpkin seeds that can be bought in stores are a disgrace. The worst are white, puffy and oversalted — the casual consumer could be forgiven for assuming that these misbegotten seeds are individually sealed in styrofoam shells for freshness (in fact that texture is just one small facet of their overall awfulness). A visit to your supermarket’s Spanish foods aisle will frequently reveal some pepitas, which sound good in theory but, shell-less as they are and lacking in character, aren’t much use for snacking.
The situation has admittedly improved. Gerbs have arrived, and they’re solidly okay. Adding a touch of curry to the salt and onion powder that make up the foundation of our American way of snacking, Gerbs at least make an effort. And yet they still fall short — far short — of the real thing. Acknowledging that something is missing but utterly incapable of filling that void, Gerbs are the postmodern novelists of the pumpkin seed world. If they’re having an event at an independently-owned business in your neighborhood, by all means go — you’ll probably get along fine with the people there, and it’s a great way to impress a girl. But no matter how much of the product you consume, you’ll still find yourself craving something more.
So what’s missing? For one half of this metaphor, at least, it’s simple: the squash. These companies seem to wash their seeds before roasting them, robbing them of their roasty, toasty, almost-but-not-quite-burned vegetal complexity. It’s nearly criminal. Don’t despair! You can still reach the rarified pumpkin seed heights to which I allude. But you’re going to have to get there yourself.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to do so: just get some pumpkin seeds and roast them. Here’s a procedure that I recently employed with considerable success:
- Begin planning a huge Halloween party
- Acquire some pumpkins as decorations. I opted for ten.
- Build some fog chillers, place blacklights, and hang your corpsed skeleton.
- At some point, scoop out the innards of the pumpkins and carve them into jack o’lanterns. Save the guts in a plastic bag in the fridge.
- Throw the party. Oh my god, did you get enough cups?!!
- Take several weeks to recover from your hangover and resume attending the neglected, non-Halloween-related but arguably more important pieces of your life.
- Succumb to the guilt of taking up so much of your roommate’s refrigerator space with pumpkin guts. Laboriously separate the seeds from most, but not quite all(!), of the strands of gross pumpkin matter (UPDATE: to clarify, it’s important to keep the seeds covered in some pumpkin slime lest you succumb to the bland fate of commercial seeds; above all else, do not wash them). Fatigued, despair at the rotten condition of the second half of the seeds and throw them out, wishing that you hadn’t waited so long to take care of this matter. On the other hand, recognize that you still have a hell of a lot of pumpkin seeds.
- Preheat your oven to 350-400 degrees, depending on your ratio of impatience to fear of burning things.
- Grease a cookie sheet with butter or oil. Butter tends to produce a less greasy final product, in my experience, although there’s something to be said for the taste element introduced by olive oil.
- Spread the seeds evenly over the sheet with a spatula and place in the oven. Turn them over every 10 minutes or so, checking to see if they’re done.
- Remove the seeds when they’ve reached your desired level of brownness. This should probably be darker than any commercial pumpkin seed, but the exact color will vary depending on your chosen fat and personal taste. I wouldn’t go much beyond a light milk chocolate hue. Check out the picture accompanying this post for an idea of a nice, middle-of-the-road roast (I auto-corrected the white balance and everything!). Total roasting time will probably be between 15 and 35 minutes, depending on your oven, the wetness of the seeds and how cold they were when they went in the oven.
- Allow to cool, then salt to taste.
But what about the less pumpkiny parts of the year? Well, I wish I could say that the alternatives are good. I’ve tried a number of things: acorn squash, butternut squash, even a strange green pumpkin that the Italian grocer simply referred to as zucca. Typically the result is disappointingly insubstantial, and the yield from each batch is tragically small. In the case of the zucca, the seeds actually started popping their weird outer shells, resulting in an experience that was both non-delicious and traumatic.
Still, next time you eat squash it might be worth roasting the seeds — the above twelve-step process notwithstanding, it’s actually extremely quick and easy. But if you’re like me, you’ll mostly just have to savor each October. Pumpkins really are the best seed providers (and big ol’ jack o’lantern pumpkins the best kind of pumpkin).
Some will suggest a dash of chili, garlic or other spice-rack powder to liven things up. I should warn you, though, that such adulterations may interfere with the pumpkin seeds’ ability to evoke an idealized version of your childhood on Pollard Street, and are therefore not recommended.