Today, the streets will be swarmed with little ones dressed as skeletons, ghosts, superheroes, and the whole spectrum of Disney princesses. But, even with all of these classic costumes, the most iconic symbol for this spooky celebration is undoubtedly the pumpkin. These brightly colored squashes come in varieties like Baby Bears, Aspens, White Luminas and Jack-o'-Lanterns. (On the subject of jack-o'-lanterns, check out this fun video history as told by the world's fastest pumpkin carver.)
How to choose it
What to look for in a pumpkin depends on whether you plan to use it for cooking or carving. For carving, you'll want to make sure the skin isn't too hard to cut. To gauge the skin's thickness, pick up the pumpkin and gently knock on it. As a rule, the more hollow it sounds, the easier it will be to carve.
For cooking, smaller pumpkins are generally sweeter than larger varieties. It's fine for the pumpkin to have dull skin, but it should be free from bruises and soft spots. Tug on the stem — if it comes off, choose another pumpkin.
How to use it
Start your day with a pumpkin muffin or smoothie. One of my favorite ways to use pumpkin is in a creamy, delicious soup. I usually make extra and freeze it for a rainy day. I also love adding pumpkin to my go-to dishes, like lasagna, chili and pasta, to give them a seasonal twist. Having company? Impress your guests by ending the meal with an unexpected surprise: pumpkin pie pudding!
If you're carving your pumpkin, be sure to set aside the seeds. Lots of people like roasting them in the oven, but I prefer toasting them on the stovetop. This year I'm going to try cooking them on the grill.
In recipes, when substituting fresh pumpkin for canned, be sure to cook it first. (Full disclosure: I once made this mistake but didn't realize it until everything I made came out terribly.)
How to store it
Pumpkins keep well in conditions that are cool but not frosty. Don't plan to store yours in the house for too long because the relatively high temperature will speed up deterioration. Instead, consider displaying it outside until you're ready to use it.