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I had this (not brilliant at all) idea to try to shell the pumpkin seeds that were being excavated from our many, many carved pumpkins around the office—the thinking being that hulling the seeds would produce something more workable and multipurpose, namely pepitas (“little seed of squash” in Spanish). Because pepitas are shelled pumpkin seeds, right?
There are a few tutorials online about how to shell pumpkin seeds: Some require a hammer, some a rolling pin, others boiling water, but most warn that it’s a fairly laborious task. It sort of seemed worthwhile, though: With a little elbow grease, I, too!, could turn tough seeds from a carving pumpkin into expensive delicate ones.
After excavating these little seeds from their unyielding white exterior in indeed a really strenuous manner (is this how they do it for mass-produced pepitas?, I wondered), not only did the hulled seeds crumble upon human contact—but they weren’t green like pepitas. They were pale and tasted fine; some roasting might’ve gotten them to a more friendly state—but there was no way they’d hold up under heat.
So if hulled carving pumpkin seeds weren’t the pepitas I could buy at the store (therefore, if all hulled pumpkin seeds weren’t the pepitas I knew), where did pepitas come from? And what’s the difference, if any, between pepitas and pumpkin seeds?
Courtney Kokus from Lancaster Farm Fresh explained it this way: “Most of the pumpkin seeds you get from the store come from hull-less pumpkins that have seeds/pepitas without shells.” So pepitas don’t have to be unearthed from an exterior shell; they grow shell-free in the pumpkin—specifically oilseed or Styrian pumpkins—already thin-skinned and green.
In other words, pepitas are pumpkin seeds, but they only come from certain types of pumpkins and don’t require shelling. You could shell the hard white seeds from your carving pumpkins if you really wanted, but, after trying that ordeal once, simply roasting and eating buckets of seeds instead now seems especially pleasant.
This article orginally ran on October 20, 2015. We're running it in honor of pumpkin season (and Halloween!).
Photos by James Ransom and Phyllis Grant