The pumpkin will never be the top seed

HAPPY EATER

October 17, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The seedy side of life has always appealed to me.

I am fond of sprinkling sesame and poppy seeds on all items edible. I like to eat seeds from trees, also known as nuts, in any size, shape or recipe. I have yet to meet a walnut I didn't like. Pecans and I have had a long, sweet relationship, ranging from the fish course -- pecan-covered trout -- and lasting until dessert -- chocolate pecan pie.

Even the peanut, which comes from a plant and not from a majestic tree, makes up, in my mind, for its less-than-imposing lineage with a winning flavor. The other night I had a piece of peanut butter pie that was so good it made me want to pound the ground and thank God for goobers.

But try as I might, I can't warm up to pumpkin seeds. No matter what you do to them, they never taste like a snack or a dessert, two high points of a person's daily eating routine. Instead, pumpkin seeds taste like an obligatory stop, some bland bits you ate because you had to give your gums a workout.

The Great Depression has a lot to do with why I try to eat pumpkin seeds. I wasn't around then, but my parents were. And, like a lot of people who lived through the tight times of the 1930s, my parents were affected in the way they viewed the world and raised their kids. Wasting food was a major evil. Once, for instance, when my mother came in from Kansas City to visit her Baltimore grandchildren, she tried to "recycle" the milk left over in their bowls of cereal. Instead of throwing away the milk, she strained it and saved it to be used in the next bowl of cereal. My kids caught her at it, claiming they could taste a difference between Cheerio-flavored milk and milk fresh from the jug.

But that "waste-not, want-not" dictum my parents live by occasionally flashes through my brain, like when I pull seeds from the middle of the jack-o'-lantern. I try to make the seeds edible.

The other night I covered the seeds with a peppery Creole seasoning. The recipe came from "Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking" (William Morrow and Co., $23). It is written by Emeril Lagasse, a New Orleans chef and restaurant-owner and the man who convinced me to put peanut butter in a pie and peanut sauce on my chicken. The recipes for both these seedy delights were in his cookbook.

Emeril's pumpkin seed treatment sounded appealing and easy. I already had the Creole seasoning mix on hand. It is one of two seasoning mixes that Emeril pretty much requires if you are going to cook his recipes. Some college professors have required courses; this chef has required seasoning mixes.

There were plenty of pumpkin seeds on hand as well. Every fall my family, like many in America, collects big fat pumpkins. These pumpkins are perfect for Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, but they produce virtually nothing good to eat. The good stuff, like pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup and most pumpkin breads, is made from the flesh of small sugar pumpkins. Jack-o'-lanterns are, all the cooking authorities warn, the wrong kind of pumpkin to cook with.

But you can roast the seeds of any kind of pumpkin, even the big fat ones from the wrong side of the patch.

The other night, in preparation for Halloween, I did a little practice-carving and cooked some spicy seeds. I mixed seeds with olive oil and the seasoning. Then I baked the seeds until crisp.

These seeds had a peppery kick and went well with beer. But the pumpkin's seeds were still too stringy for me. For me they remain one of life's few bad seeds.

Emeril Lagasse's spicy roasted pumpkin seeds

THE SEEDS:

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Emeril's Creole seasoning (see below)

THE SEASONING:

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoons black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano

1 tablespoon dried leaf thyme

Combine all seasoning ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Yields about 2/3 cup of seasoning.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse pumpkin seeds; combine them with olive oil and teaspoon of seasoning. Place on baking sheet ** and bake until brown and crisp, about 15 minutes.

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