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How To Bake Pumpkin Seeds (With Easy Step-By-Step Pictures)
Some Halloween History
Native Americans have been using and eating pumpkins and pumpkin seeds for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, early colonists brought pumpkin seeds back to Europe, making pumpkins the first foods to travel from the New World back across the ocean.
Have you ever baked pumpkin seeds before?
Interestingly enough, the Irish were the ones to bring Halloween to the United States. Back in Ireland they commemorated Jack, an Irish rogue, by carving turnips and placing lights inside. As the story goes, Jack was so evil that not even the Devil wanted anything to do with him. He wandered aimlessly, his only resting place beside the lights of rotting turnips, aka--you guessed it--Jack'o'lanterns.
With the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1840s the US gained 700,000 Irish immigrants--and with them came Halloween. Since turnips weren't as available here, they opted for carving pumpkins instead. (I bet that was a relief, considering the size of turnips!) This tradition became a widely known American holiday, though the original intent of it has long since turned to corporate marketing, general shenanigans, drunken antics, and costume parties.
Baked pumpkin seeds are one of my fondest memories of Halloween growing up. It's cold outside, the leaves are falling, it's warm and toasty inside, the jack'o'lanterns are carved--and there's a nutty aroma wafting from the kitchen throughout the house. There's nothing better! Let's do it!
Wash The Pumpkin Seeds
In a colander, swish the seeds and pulp in cold water until the pulp separates from the seeds. Pick out the pieces of pulp and pumpkin and throw them away. It should take a few rinses to get rid of all the orange. Drain the seeds as best as possible within the colander and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
Lay The Seeds Out To Dry
I used a clean kitchen towel, but paper towels will work wonderfully as well. Seeds will probably have more water on them than you'd expect. Keep dabbing them dry until fully dry. We want oil to stick to them, so make sure there's no water left on them. If you're having major problems drying the seeds, stick them on a baking sheet in the oven until they're dry, stirring every couple minutes. It shouldn't take longer than 5-7 minutes to dry them out.
Coat Seeds In Vegetable Oil And Coarse Salt
I personally prefer to use my hands to oil all the pumpkin seeds. I find it's easier to make sure all the seeds are completely coated than when using a spoon or spatula. Make sure every surface of every seed is coated with a film of vegetable oil. It should be a moderate coating of oil: No puddles, but enough to ensure a crispy outer texture when they're baking. I prefer sea salt or other coarse salts, but any salt will work well. The benefit of coarse salt is that, like on pretzels, it packs more punch and really brings out the nuance of flavors.
Arrange Seeds In A Single Layer On Baking Sheet
I used a couple of pizza pans to arrange my pumpkin seeds, but anything flat will do. Make sure there's enough room to stir the seeds around every few minutes without spilling over the side. Dump the oiled and salted pumpkin seeds onto the surface, grab an edge of the sheet or pan, and gently shake seeds until they settle into one layer. If you have too much, move them to another sheet or make two separate batches. If the seeds overlap they will be soggy and not very festive!
Bake For 15-30 Minutes, Stirring Occasionally
When the oven has preheated to 350°F (177°C), place the pan or sheet on a middle rack in the oven. Baking at this lower temperature ensures a crispy end product. Keep checking on and stirring the seeds every 5-7 minutes for about 15-30 minutes (ovens vary). Sift more salt over them the first couple stirs, since a lot of the salt falls off when moved around. When the pumpkin seeds are done, they will "clink" together when stirred. You'll be able to tell they're cooked, but keep going until they're getting slightly browned.
Let The Pumpkin Seeds Cool
I tend to take the seeds out but let them keep cooking on the pans. The easiest spot I've found is just to balance the pans of seeds on the stove's burner coils. A trivet would be great, so if you have one, use it. An upside down pot or pan can also do the trick. The seeds will make little popping and fizzling sounds for another few minutes. It's the time where I imagine the pumpkin seeds getting their extra special crunchy shell.
Store The Seeds In An Airtight Container
Part of the appeal of homemade pumpkin seeds is their crunch, so you don't want air or moisture anywhere near the finished products. Store pumpkin seeds in an airtight container or zip seal-type plastic baggie. They appear to me to keep indefinitely this way, but use your own discretion.
No need to refrigerate or freeze: the baked seeds can be stored on the shelf. Enjoy!