carve-off twenty ten

My father took pumpkin carving seriously. From an early age, my brother and I were raised to give sincere contemplation to each year’s awaiting canvas. Sketches on paper, revisions if necessary – this was not something to be taken lightly. As we got older though, things started to get a little more competitive. Somewhere along the line “official judging” became an integral part of the process. My father frequently won. I remember the year he invited an outsider to judge – someone “impartial,” he said – wanting to claim his victory fair and square. And for a while, he had us, when his skinny oblong pumpkin with nothing but a single cyclops eyeball was crowned the winner. Only later did it slip that our guest was a minimalist architect – a fact that only our father was privy to.

He pulled plenty of other shenanigans – like disqualifying us for using “illegitimate” tools. He was a firm believer in carving with a standard chef’s knife. None of these fancy tools that come in pumpkin carving kits, no apple corer implements to make perfect circles, no x-acto knifes or special blades. My husband Mark is famous for the year he took his pumpkin out onto my parents’ front porch and, in an act of defiance, carved it up with his chainsaw. I think my father might have actually conceded the prize that year.

Yes – what started out as good old fashioned family pumpkin carving somehow became an institution that extended well beyond my youth. I even went so far as to send in my contenders via mail on the years I was far away from home. These days I carve in fond memory of my father, smiling with the knowledge that I am surely committing some violation that he can do nothing about.

On any given year, our garden usually yields about six to eight pumpkins. And even though there are only two of us, we seem compelled to carve every last one. We generally start a week or two before Halloween, and slowly stage a small welcoming committee outside the front door. And with the arrival of each new recruit comes a fresh bowl of seeds. I’m pretty sure that roasted pumpkin seeds would make my top 10 list of favorite things to eat.

Generally I soak them in a bowl of salt water – either over night or while we’re carving, depending on the timeframe. Then after draining them and drying them out a bit, I spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle some olive oil over them and add a hefty sprinkling of Penzey’s garlic salt before popping them in a low oven to roast for an hour or so until they are good and crunchy and nicely browned. Then, lookout. I have been known to eat an entire pan of seeds in one sitting. But last night, I decided to branch out. As I was rinsing the last of the pumpkin glop from the seeds, I happened to glance at a recipe for spiced pecans that I had clipped from the latest Bon Appétite to try, and I thought – why not? I tweaked it a bit – added some olive oil, reduced the sweet, and adjusted it to work with the seeds. The result was sort of a spicy pumpkin seed brittle. Very addictive, but a little more savory than my usual seeds. Which means I only ate about half of the pan in one sitting.

Spicy Pumpkin Seed Brittle

2 cups raw, cleaned, mostly dry, pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper

Heat the honey, oil, sugar and chili powder in a saucepan large enough to also hold the seeds. Warm the honey mixture, just until sugar and chipotle dissolve. Stir in the seeds, remove from heat, and stir well so all the seeds get nicely coated. Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Slow roast for about 2 hours in a 275º F oven, stirring every 30 minutes or so. When the seeds are done to your liking, remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt while still warm and sticky. As the seeds cool, they form a shinny brittle. After a few minutes, peel up the seeds with a spatula and roughly break them apart into a bowl. These would be great with pre-diner cocktails.

2 Responses to “carve-off twenty ten”

  1. 1 Sara October 31, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Great entry, Jill. I don’t cook so my eyes glaze over a bit at the recipe & preparation stuff, but I loved reading about Dick & your Halloween traditions.

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