Pumpkin has a luscious, custardy texture and earthy taste kissed with the ripe sweetness of autumn. And while the canned version is quite convenient, don't be afraid to cook the real deal. Preparing pumpkin is easy. The trick is in starting with the right variety: those big jack-o'-lantern breeds might look amazing on your porch, but they're bred for durability, not flavor. Instead, opt for smaller "sugar pie" varieties — they have a smoother texture and are deliciously sweet. Or try the increasingly popular white Lumina pumpkins, which taste satiny and have orange, sweet flesh beneath their pale skin. You can even cook softball-sized mini pumpkins.
Whatever you pick, make sure it's firm and without soft spots. Check that the stem is attached, too, as this can be a source of rot. In cool conditions, pumpkins keep for months without rotting (they love a 60-degree porch). In fact some get sweeter over time, so don't feel pressured to bake pies on the same day you buy pumpkins. And remember to appreciate the pumpkin's health benefits: It's packed with dietary fiber and is a great source of vitamin A, which promotes good vision.
Check out the slideshow above for three ways to cook pumpkin and additional recipes for inspiration!