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In the United States, pumpkins go hand in hand with fall holidays.

One of my favorite activities in the fall is to visit the local pumpkin patch with my granddaughter in search of the perfect pumpkin to carve for Halloween and to pick up a few pie pumpkins for Thanksgiving. In the United States, pumpkins go hand in hand with these fall holidays; children, young and old, love the fall traditions that involve pumpkins.

References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name “pumpkin” originated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.” Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed. They dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Indians would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them.

When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians, and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets. As we do today, early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups. The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices, and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.

The tradition of carving faces into vegetables dates to the ancient Celts. As part of their autumnal celebration, they wanted to light the way to their homes for good spirits, so they carved faces into vegetables such as turnips and squash. These carved vegetables were eventually called jack-o’-lanterns by the Irish, who told a legend about a mean-spirited farmer named Jack who made a bargain with the devil that left him wandering the earth for all time with only a lighted turnip to show the way. We credit the Irish for bringing this custom to the states, where they found pumpkins bigger and easier to carve.

Cleaning the pumpkin seeds out of the middle of the pumpkin is one of the first steps in carving a jack-o’-lantern. I will admit that I have been guilty of throwing away the pumpkin seeds from my carving and baking of pumpkins. But no more! Once you discover how easy it is to roast pumpkin seeds, you will never toss those seeds again.

It’s a fun project for kids in the kitchen, and they are a healthy snack alternative.

♦ To clean pumpkin seeds the easy way, start by removing any large pieces of pumpkin guts/pulp from the seeds. Place the seeds in a large bowl and run cool water over them until the bowl is full of water. Use your hands to separate the remaining pumpkin guts from the seeds.

♦ Set aside some seeds for the following year for planting and then boil the rest for ten minutes with about 1½ teaspoons of sea salt. (This step is optional but creates a more flavorful salt-infused taste).

♦ Strain the seeds.

♦ In a bowl, drizzle the seeds with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. I use 2 teaspoons of olive oil and a generous ¼ teaspoon of sea salt for 1 cup of seeds. You can also add any other desired seasonings such as black pepper, garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, maple syrup or cinnamon.

♦ Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to keep them from sticking and bake at 275 degrees for 30-40 minutes. You want them to be a nice and golden brown. Stir the pumpkin seeds every 15 minutes to help them cook evenly.

♦ Cool, then shell and eat or pack in air-tight containers or zip closure bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Fall is a great time to create or continue traditions with your family!

Barb Schirmer is one of many UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. For more information or questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org

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