Jack-o’-lanterns are lovely. Cleaning out the pumpkin guts, though, can put you off your gourd. The reward for this not-so-super task, however, is the plump, delicious pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, which can be eaten straight up as a snack or included with great success in a variety of recipes.
Shopping: There are two varieties of pumpkin seeds—those that have hulls (the white outer shell) and hull-less, also called “naked” seeds. If you are gleaning seeds from a carving or pie pumpkin, chances are the seeds have hulls. The hull-less variety comes from gourds known as “oil seed pumpkins” that are grown specifically for their seed, the fat of which is easily extracted. These oil seed pumpkins have a rather bland flesh and are not widely available.
Storing: Pumpkins can be kept for several months in a cool root cellar. At room temperature, they deteriorate much more quickly—within several weeks. Cut as a jack-o’-lantern, you can expect a pumpkin to last only several days in warm temperatures before slowly melting into squirrel bait. Hunks of edible pumpkin will keep for several days, wrapped well and refrigerated. Seeds can be covered and refrigerated for a day or two before proceeding with your recipe.
Prepping: If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin, you know how to remove the seeds. Cut a hole in the top, reach in and scrape out the lovely gobs of pulp and seeds with your hand or a large spoon. Transfer all the pulp to a large cookie sheet and tease out the large clumps of seeds. Rinse the seeds in a colander to remove the finer strings of pulp and any sticky residue. At this point, you can simply roast the seeds, hull and all, and enjoy them as a snack. If you are going to use the seeds in recipes, it’s best to remove the hull.
To remove the hull of pumpkin seeds, arrange a single layer of seeds on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Roll over the seeds with a heavy rolling pin or empty wine bottle to crack the shells. Be careful not to crush the meat of the seeds. Transfer the cracked pumpkin seeds to a large pot of boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and skim off the empty shells, which will be floating. Drain the now hull-less seeds. Transfer to a large cookie sheet and pat dry with paper towels. Allow to air dry and then proceed with your recipe or store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Sherri Brooks Vinton is the Chair of Slow Food Los Angeles and the author of a number of farm-to-table cookbooks including “Put ‘em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook” and “Eat it Up! 150 Recipes to Use Every Bit and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Buy”.