The following are simple projects that anyone can do, and they create lasting memories for everyone involved. In addition to pumpkin seeds, most squash seeds can be toasted following the techniques detailed below.
Oven toasted pumpkin seeds
Rinse the seeds and remove the pulp. Spread the seeds onto paper towels placed on a cooking sheet and allow them to dry overnight. For extra salty seeds, soak them overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup of salt to 2 cups of water and allow an additional day to dry. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with nonstick foil. In a bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with olive oil or butter, or spray with a cooking spray. For more flavor, sprinkle with salt, garlic or onion powder, or seasoned salt. Bake about 1 hour, being sure to toss every 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three months or can be refrigerated for up to one year.
Pumpkin seeds in a skillet
Prepare them as above, drying overnight. Heat a large heavy-bottomed dry skillet over medium heat and add the pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly. When the seeds begin to turn a golden brown and start to pop open they are done. While the seeds are hot, sprinkle on the seasoning of your choice. Pumpkin seeds can also be cooked in a microwave by adding the seeds to warmed olive oil or butter and cooking them on high about 7 to 8 minutes, or until the seeds are a light golden color, stirring every two minutes. The seeds are then ready to be seasoned and eaten.
Toasted sunflower seeds
Freshly toasted sunflower seeds are also quite a treat. After gathering the seeds, rinse them in warm water. To salt your sunflower seeds, make a brine mixture with 1 cup of salt to 2 cups of water. You could also use different types of salt – barbecue, garlic, onion, etc. Drop the seeds into the brine, letting them soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the mix in a colander and place the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. Stir every 8 to 10 minutes.
Sun dried tomatoes
Making sun dried tomatoes from your own garden enables you to give a great burst of flavor to any recipe. The best tomatoes to dry are Roma as they have less seeds and are meatier they other types of tomatoes, but you can do this with any type of tomato. You will need to select tomatoes of a uniform size so they all dry at the same rate, and are all firm and ripe. Ten good-sized tomatoes create about 1 ounce of dried tomatoes. As with anything, be sure to wash the tomatoes before starting. Cut the tomatoes into thick pieces, about 1/4 inch.
For drying them out in the sun, you must have good weather. Place them skin side down on a framed plastic screen, being sure that they don’t touch each other. You can sprinkle a little bit of salt on them as it will add flavor and help with the drying process. Use cheesecloth to cover them and to help ward off the bugs. Use toothpicks or a skewer to keep the cheesecloth from touching the tomatoes. Place the screen outside in the sun, putting it on a couple of boards or bricks, allowing air to flow underneath it. Bring the screen in overnight and don’t allow it to get wet with rain. Sometimes this entire process can take up to 12 days.
To oven-dry tomatoes, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and prepare them as with drying in the sun and place them onto a screen (omitting the cheesecloth), a cake cooling rack, or a pizza pan with holes. Bake the tomatoes for 6 to 12 hours, until they are shriveled and dry. Remember to keep checking on them, every hour or so, as the ones on the edge may dry faster than those in the middle. Dried tomatoes should be leathery but pliable and not sticky, with the texture of a raisin. They can be kept for up to six months in a plastic or glass jar container or for up to 18 months in the freezer. Dried tomatoes can be re-hydrated by soaking them for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water or broth.
Dried and toasted food snacks right out of the garden are a tasty and simple treat. They extend the summer harvest into the fall and winter months, reminding us of the warm sun and long, lazy days.
Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.