I have an interesting relationship with pumpkins and their seeds. As kids, we would carve a pumpkin every Halloween and my mom would roast off the seeds with just oil, salt and pepper. This sounds good in theory but I can say that years later, there are still only a few things I hate more than sticking my hands in a pumpkin and scooping out its slimy guts. I cringe just thinking about it. And that smell? Ugh I just want to gag. Actually I think it is the smell over the tactile experience that really does me in. Which makes sense actually because the chemical receptors in our noses that detect odour connect to the olfactory bulb which then connects to the amygdala in the brain. What does this mean in English? Essentially the amygdala is one of the key centres in the brain when it comes to the emotional salience of memories. Thus certain smells can actually conjure up specific memories. So when you hear people saying that a batch of cookies brings them back to their grandma’s kitchen as a little kid, there is some scientific truth to it.
To bring this all back to pumpkins, when I cut one open and smell it, it is just like I have been transported back to my kitchen a few days before Halloween and immediately my stomach turns. This applies to squash too. See then when I smell the seeds roasting, I am really conflicted because as much as they smell good, it still reminds me of that raw pumpkin stench. I know, I should probably see a psychologist and have this dealt with.
I would like to say I am going somewhere with this, but I’m not really. It has gotten better over the years, I am not as repulsed as I used to be but it’s definitely not my favourite smell in the world. Baring this slight phobia in mind, it is perfectly logical that I would roast off a kabocha squash and candy the seeds, no? I candy nuts and seeds all the time but this was my first time applying the technique to squash seeds. That being said, I think it made the grossness of dealing with squash guts totally worth it. Crystallized sugar gets me every time. I think I can actually eat these candied squash seeds. Moral of the story; the ends can justify the means. If you don’t like an ingredient, make something really delicious with it and that can all change.
Candied Squash Seeds
seeds from one squash (or pumpkin), be that kabocha, acorn or butternut, cleaned and dried off
about 1/2 cup white sugar
a splash of water
1. Put the sugar in a saucepan with a splash of water, just to help it dissolve. This technique is similar to the beginnings of a caramel but you actually want the sugar to crystallize. Cook the sugar over medium/high heating, stirring as much as you want until it becomes thick and bubbly.
2. Once it looks somewhat white and crystallized, add in the pumpkin seeds. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it goes from shiny and syrupy to dry and sandy. You will know the seeds are done because they will stop sticking together and separate into individual nuggets of seedy sugary delight.
3. Toss the candied squash seeds into a bowl and allow them to cool slightly before consumption. They can be eaten as is are used as a garnish for salads or even fall desserts. Also, they will keep well in an airtight container for about 1 week.