Although they're grown in other parts of the world, only in the United States do we use pumpkins to celebrate and symbolize Halloween. Many people never buy pumpkins except to make jack-o'-lanterns, which is too bad because pumpkins supply more beta carotene per serving than any other fruit or vegetable.
Some people use jack-o'-lantern pumpkins for cooking, but they were developed specifically to be oversized and thin-walled, with a huge seed pocket and a relatively small proportion of flesh.
The smaller sugar pumpkins, or pie pumpkins, will give you more meat for cooking purposes and often a better flavor and texture. Sugar pumpkins make an especially delicious pumpkin soup. Buy an extra one, clean out the cavity, and use it as a striking tureen.
If you can find it, I suggest using a variety called the cheese pumpkin for pies. It is a medium-sized to large pumpkin with a very flattened shape, a light tan shell, and orange flesh. Found most readily at farm stands and in New England, cheese pumpkins make delicious pies. Regular pumpkins - sugar and especially jack-o'-lantern - sometimes make a stringy filling.
October through December
Whatever kind of pumpkin you're buying, select one with no bruises or soft spots. It may be greenish in color, but left whole in a cool spot - not refrigerated - it will ripen and turn orange. Never handle a pumpkin by the stem because it breaks off easily.
There's a way to decorate pumpkins that's different and colorful. Instead of cutting and hollowing out a pumpkin for your jack-o'-lantern, try leaving it intact and creating a face with fresh vegetables. Depending on what you use, you can give the pumpkins a wide range of personalities. My mother decorated pumpkins this way because it preserved the pumpkin, which she could use in cooking after Halloween was over. She'd use a carrot or parsnip to make a long, witchy nose. She'd make lips out of red peppers, use radishes for the eyes and add string bean eyelashes. She'd slice potatoes to make ears, and make "hair" out of fennel tops. The result was unusual and very striking. My wife, who is quite artistic, picked up a lot of kitchen techniques from my mother, and she has decorated pumpkins for my show that were really something to see.
Peter's Pumpkin Soup
Other recipes from Produce Pete.