“...Page upon page of yesterdays stored neatly in a drawer
archives of a life recorded as it was before
Now spread out like fallen leaves across the author’s floor…”
- Karyn Crest
Family picnics in the farm, pumpkin picking, hay rides, maizes; this is probably a very pretty time of the year, full of action & excitement. We have already guessed the weight of that humongous, misshapen pumpkin in our local farmer’s market, & dropped the paper in the box.
The kids are still hoping to win the pumpkin. I know it will never happen, but when I asked the kids what they will do with the pumpkin they had no idea. Probably sit on it? paint it? or carve it out & eat all the seeds? Well if you are carving the pumpkins for making some really spooky (or may be pretty) Jack-O-Lanterns, please don’t throw the seeds away. Pumpkins seeds are very very tasty, high in fiber and protein, loaded with antioxidants and memories.
We did not have Halloween back in India, but we did eat a lot of pumpkin all year round. I remember my Dida (maternal grand mom) would always take the goop out of the pumpkin slices & liberate every seed from the the slimy pumpkin guts. The seeds then had to be washed which she did by holding the big bowl under the running water while briskly rubbing the seeds with her long slender artistic fingers. The ring finger had one gold band & the fingers, other than cleaning the goop, did beautiful embroidery & stitched dresses for me. The designs would be picked from the catalog books given to her by the English neighbors, showcasing the pretty fair skinned doll like girls with brown eyes & curly locks of hair. The dresses created quite a talk among my friends. I had to take a nap in the afternoon while the antic sewing machine droned away the afternoon heat, getting the red polka dotted dress with a big bow belt that tied at the back ready and the pumpkins seeds dried outside on a large plate in a single layer. After nap time, the long anticipated time would have arrived – the special time between Dida & me. I sat by her wide eyed while she toasted the seeds in the hot iron skillet on the clay oven. No ovens, no gas stoves, all she owned was a portable clay oven which looked like this. She would light the oven with coals every morning outside the home, & bring it in once the fire settled in & the coals glowed & the smokes subsided.
Dida taught in school, she was distinguished woman, modern, & practical, way ahead of her times. Her cooking skills were well known; at that time she would be experimenting with food all around the world- Preserves, Biscuits, Fish Croquettes, English Kidney Stews, Stuffed Chicken, Cakes & Cookies (the dough would be taken to the local bakery to get them baked). She studied in a missionary school which were run by European Nuns at that time. She also spent most of her life after that living in a college campus (my grand pa was the head librarian in a college his entire life till her retired) which predominantly housed Europeans who came & worked in this missionary college.
But she would not take anybody’s word on bringing the convenience of a gas oven in her kitchen. She would use a kerosene stove, once in a while when it would be raining & damp outside, but the clay oven was the glowing jewel of her kitchen; her company. While I sat beside her on the floor, & watched the coals with a strong red glow, the occasional tongues of fire lick the sides of the skillet, I would often wonder if the fire would rise up and burn up the seeds. That never happened; she moved the steel spoon fast in a blur tossing the pumpkin seeds. She sat on the wooden stool, told me stories, & laughed a hearty laugh. I would look up to see the bead of perspiration glisten on her forehead like dew drops, the tired curls of hair around her face & her missing front tooth. She had lost it while she was in school while eating a guava. Among company she had one artificial tooth, which fascinated me. Then the fire crackled & the seeds sounded a light pop pop. They were cooked. The kitchen towel came down from her shoulder, she grabbed the handle of the skillet with the towel & jerked the seeds out on a plate. I had to wait till it cooled. Sometimes my Dadu (grand pa) would sit beside me & peel out the shells of the toasted seeds, Dida would move on with next project in the kitchen. But most of the time we would munch them as it is.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
- 1.5 cups Pumpkin Seeds
- 2 Teaspoons Oil
- Black Pepper
For Sweet: Add Sugar, & some spices like Cinnamon
For Spicy: Add Cumin, Red Chili Powder/Cayenne, Ginger Powder, Garlic Powder
For Sweet & Spicy: Add all the spices for the Sweet & for the Spicy as above.
Customize the spices the way you want it.
When you are carving your pumpkin, separate the seeds from the pumpkin flesh and strings.Remove as much chunks of the pulp from the seeds as possible. There will still be smaller pieces of pulp with the seeds.
The best way to do remove the smaller pulps is to fill a big pot of water with the pulp and the seeds in it. Rub the seeds with the pulp together; most of the pulp will go at the bottom of the pot, the seeds will float up. (See the picture below)
Separate the seeds and give them another wash. (To wash them; put them in a big bowl of water and rub them between your palms & fingers to remove the slimy feel and the tiny bits of pulp if there are any left). Let them drain in a strainer for about 20 -25 minutes, then spread them out on a flat pan/tray in a single layer. Dry them overnight or just use a hair dryer to dry them quickly!
For a more even distribution of salt in the seeds & to make the shells more edible, this is a step you might want to do before roasting them. I usually skip this step.
In a pan, add the seeds to water (about double the amount of water to the seeds). Add a half tablespoon of salt for one cup of water (Add more salt if you want them more salty). Bring to a boil. Simmer for about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.]
Skillet Method – Dida’s way:
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, dry skillet (cast iron works best) over medium heat.
Toss the pumpkin seeds with the oil, salt & pepper. Shake and stir the seeds constantly as they are toasting to prevent burning. When the pumpkin seeds begin to get golden, start to pop open, and release their aroma, they are done. Sprinkle hot toasted pumpkin seeds with your choice of seasonings if you want. Toss to coat.
Preheat oven to 275 F. Line a baking sheet with a foil.
Toss pumpkin seeds in oil. Sprinkle the seeds with your choice of seasonings. Toss to coat. Bake about 45 minutes – 1 hour, tossing every 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Microwave Method: (Adapted from here)
Place oil in a microwave-safe dish. Heat in microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add pumpkin seeds to the oil in the dist and toss to coat. Spread seeds out evenly in the bottom of the dish.
Microwave on high about 3 minutes or until seeds are toasted a light golden color. Be sure to stir every 1 minute as they are cooking. (Microwave temperatures vary, so do not leave them & walk away.) Continue to toast them for 1 minute, stirring in between, until they are crisp.
Cool pumpkin seeds before eating or storing. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to a couple of months. Mine never lasts for more than 2 days.
I carve pumpkins with my kids every year. They scoop the seeds & the pulps out, help me wash them & stand on the step stools while I toast them on the skillet on the stove top. I had the privilege to have my Dida & Dadu live within few minutes of walking from my home; that gave me all the time I wanted with them, the cuddles, the stories & the usual grandparent kind of spoiling. For my kids grandparents live in photographs & across the verizon phone lines – no tight hugs, no clay ovens, no fascinating stories while the seeds dry & roast. Now while I watch the seeds pop, the memories untangle lose & quick, pouring on me like big bucket of water; I drown, & suffocate while trying to record every moment of my childhood in the invisible scrapbook of my life, over & over again. I do not want to lose a moment of my memory or my precious time with my girls. They will have to make & preserve their own too.
The musty smell of the library, the tiny kitchen & the clay oven with warm and frightening red coals, creamy yellow pumpkins and the crunchy seeds, Dida’s beautiful fingers which I adored, Jack – O – Lanterns and my Dida’s broken tooth, the relentless movement of Dida’s feet while she drove the antic sewing machine & my efforts to create Halloween costumes for my girls, the red polka dotted dress which my girls would probably relate with Minnie Mouse; very unrelated incidents & visions entwine, the past and the present seem like a spider web trying to make connections from one generation to another, a web that feeds energy & inspiration into my life. This post is for Manisha’s IFR: Memories.