To me, the most pleasing way to eat pumpkin--the way flavor and color are best preserved--is to prick the likes of a whole Baby Bear with a cooking fork, slip the pumpkin onto a pie pan and into the oven, bake it at 400 degrees until tender (about 45 minutes), slice it in half or into quarters, scoop out the seeds and fibers, sprinkle the pulp with nutmeg and brown sugar, then sit down and dive in with a big spoon.
As for pie, if you're accustomed to pumpkin pie with puree from a can, you'll be perplexed the first time you make one with fresh pumpkin. The pumpkin flavor will be significantly subtler, lighter--I didn't say bland, but at first you may think so. In the canning process, the pumpkin is heated until it almost caramelizes. This doesn't happen in your kitchen unless you do it on purpose. There's no question that the high heat adds a depth of flavor, but I urge you to adjust your palate to pumpkin pie prepared with fresh pumpkin. You'll soon find its delicacy most appealing, and the freshness is perceptible.
And don't overlook the seeds. Rich in protein and iron, with less fat than most nuts, pumpkin seeds should never be tossed out. In fact, there are pumpkins specially bred to give us hull-less seeds. Trick or Treat is one such pumpkin, with the bonus of a size and shape for carving jack-o'-lanterns.
If pulling the fibers out of a pumpkin to get the seeds is a hassle, pull out most of them, then spread the mixture of seeds and fibers as thin as possible on an oiled baking sheet. When roasted, the fibers will dry out and be easy to remove. Roast at 325 degrees, stirring occasionally until crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes. And do consult Mexican recipes for pumpkin seed sauces and soups.
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* Baby Bear, Jack Be Little, Lumina and Trick or Treat available from the Cook's Garden, Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148.
* Rouge Vif D'Etampes available from Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 30 Irene St., Torrington, CT 06790.
* Atlantic Giant, Connecticut Field, Magdalena Big Cheese, Small Sugar available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Box 158, North Garden, VA 22959.
* Veracruz Pepita available from Native Seeds/SEARCH, 2509 N. Campbell Ave., #325, Tucson, AZ 85719.
Note: Before ordering, inquire whether the cultivars will be available in 1996.