All Things Orange & Pumpkiny

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I do not know what I discovered first--the salty crunch of sunflower seed or the heady, balmy feel of softball. No matter which came first, both became big parts of my life. It's true, if I have to pick a favorite snack, I might be tempted to say sunflower seeds.

My love of sunflower seeds gradually evolved into a slight infatuation with other seeds and nuts. Such was my rapture, that I embarked on what could very well be a lifelong love affair with seeds and nuts, quite squirrel like, to be honest. Eventually, sunflower seeds gave way to pumpkin seeds. In fact, I can still remember the day I first tried pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

We, the seven year olds who made up my elementary school class were sitting in a circle on the carpet, minutes away from starting our Harvest Festival. Parents had come to school carting Tupperware boxes of goodies or plastic bags of store-bought treats. The classroom had been divided--Indians sat on the floor in a way that was deemed ethically correct and fat-faced Pilgrims with white nun habits on their heads sat across from us. We were divided by an impressive cornucopia of festive fall foodstuffs.

Amongst that autumnal spread lay something I had never tasted, though I had known much about it. I could spell it; could tell you what color it was; knew that it belonged to the squash family, but never until that day had I ever eaten a pumpkin.

My first taste of it was in the form of pumpkin pie. One of my classmate's moms served me up a thick slice. It was a beautiful rich color, like the sweet potato pies my mother would make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mouth watered as I lifted the fork. The texture wasn't too different from sweet potato pie, just a bit more stringy, but it was lovely and delicious. I finished the pie and the whipped cream, dazed by the new food I'd discovered.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, someone was passing around pumpkin seeds. I had never seen pumpkin seeds but I was intrigued. Their pale white shells and teardrop shapes were enthralling and I peeled one apart after sucking the salt from its hull to find a curiously colored green seed. They were divine and so it began.

I became (as I guess we all have to be) a seasonal pumpkin consumer. It was never big in my family, my mom never really cooked with it, nor did she make pumpkin pies. But everywhere I went that was serving something pumpkin related, I devoured. In college, I discovered one of the best restaurant desserts ever: Olive Garden's pumpkin cheesecake.

One of my roommates and close friends and I would go to Olive Garden repeatedly in the autumn to devour the massive servings of pumpkin cheesecake. It became a rather pointed ritual--if the leaves we were changing we were sure to be found in the bistro sitting area of the Greensboro Olive Garden, sipping Venetian sunsets, waiting for our two course meal: a shared plate of spinach artichoke dip and a piece of pumpkin cheesecake each. It's amazing the things you can live off of in college. :)

Anyway, pumpkins and I, we have a lovely relationship. I keep licking my fingers as I type this, shoveling in helping after helping of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds. The fiance and I, per our ritual, bought a pumpkin (two pumpkins, actually) last week and carved one into a rather whimsical jack o'lantern. Of course during the gutting process, we reserved the seeds, left them to dry out for a day or two in a bowl covered with Saran wrap.

This afternoon, I dumped the seeds onto a baking sheet, doused with generous helpings of salt and olive oil and roasted for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When they were finished roasting (and still warm) I tossed them in cinnamon, poured them onto a plate and sat down to eat and write this entry.

There's not much better in the days surrounding Halloween than pumpkin seeds and pumpkin recipes. As I type this, rough wedges of sliced pumpkin with skin and seeds intact are roasting in the oven in a bath of olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, sage and garlic, waiting to be transformed into a roasted pumpkin risotto and the next entry. :)

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