Yesterday, my colleague Nicholas Day explained why the pumpkins we carve into jack-o’-lanterns are not also good for making, say, pumpkin pie. “People have managed to breed beautifully orange pumpkins that are perfect for carving,” he writes. “But they haven’t managed to breed beautifully orange pumpkins that are perfect for carving and taste good.” Many people know this, of course, either from fateful first-hand experience, or from a cookbook. It’s an unspoken convention of cookbook writing that if you include a recipe that calls for fresh pumpkin, you must warn readers not to use a carving pumpkin.
I’m glad the inedibility of carving pumpkins is more or less common knowledge. But I am distraught that so many people seem to believe that the seeds from carving pumpkins are OK to eat. They are not. Carving pumpkins are not bred to have delicious flesh, nor are they bred to have delicious seeds. So here is a new pumpkin rule of thumb (rule of thumbkin?): You can have a pumpkin that’s good for carving, a pumpkin with good-tasting flesh, or a pumpkin with good-tasting seeds—but you cannot have more than one of those things simultaneously.
The most common cultivar of pumpkin grown specifically for its seeds is the Styrian pumpkin, which yields the small, smooth green seeds sold in grocery stores. Styrian pumpkin seeds are ideal for eating because they are rich in oil and naturally hull-less. The hull is the white outer layer that makes carving pumpkin seeds taste like nothing so much as fingernails.
I understand the urge to roast your jack-o’-lantern seeds just because they’re there, and it feels wasteful to throw them away—really, I do. But don’t force your loved ones to gag down those tough, flaky seeds, which inevitably remain coated with dried pulp residue. If you must do something with the seeds from your pumpkin other than throw them away, use them in a craft or something. (Make some beautiful jewelry, say, or leave them attached to the pulp and make your jack-o’-lantern look like it has viscera coming out of its eyes.)
But if you want a crunchy, moderately healthy Halloween snack to munch on during your annual re-viewing (and re-re-viewing) of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” head to the bulk aisle of your local health food store and pick up some pepitas that are actually fit for human consumption. Roasted with maple syrup and spices, they become a sweet-and-savory, impossible-to-stop-eating treat that falls somewhere in between trail mix and brittle.
In addition to tasting amazing, this recipe solves one of the fundamental problems of eating pumpkin seeds: Usually, you have to either tip your head back and pour them into your mouth like a brute, or eat them one by one like a rodent. Because these maple-syrup-coated pumpkin seeds stick together, granola-like, you can avoid this dilemma by just popping a cluster into your mouth.
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Butter or oil for greasing the pan
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅓ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a rimmed baking sheet or a 9- by 13-inch pan. Put the pumpkin seeds, salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine.
2. Put the maple syrup and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and cook until the butter melts. Pour the maple mixture over the seeds and stir to coat the nuts evenly in the maple mixture. Spread the seeds on the baking sheet and bake, stirring frequently, until the seeds are golden brown and the coating is thick, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool until the coating hardens, and serve. (Store leftover nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to several days.)