Pumpkins are definitely one of the symbols of the season. We search for the biggest and best pumpkins to carve for Halloween, we enjoy pumpkin spiced flavored everything, and decorate our Thanksgiving table with this beautiful fruit. But, one thing many people overlook is the wide variety of dishes that can be made with fresh pumpkin. Pumpkin is very versatile and it can be used in a variety of sweet or savory dishes.

The first step to baking and cooking with fresh pumpkins is to choose the right variety of pumpkin. Look for the small pumpkins in the produce section of the store. These are referred to as pie or sugar pumpkins. Pie/sugar pumpkins have sweeter flesh and are not as stringy and tough as the popular Halloween carving pumpkin. One fun way to use these pumpkins is to use them as your baking dish. Cut the top off, scrape the seeds out and insides clean, then fill it with any number of dishes. Try filling them with your favorite casserole, mac and cheese, Thanksgiving stuffing, or even use it in place of the crust for a pumpkin cheesecake. The benefit to baking directly inside a hollowed out pumpkin is you get the scrape the sides with your spoon and get a little scoop of fresh pumpkin with each bite. Pumpkins can also be cut into slices and roasted with cinnamon sugar or any variety of savory and hot spices or chunked and used in stews.

While there are endless possibilities to using pumpkin, we still love our baked goods and, of course, pumpkin pie. To make these delights, you don’t need to reach for the can of pumpkin puree, you can easily make your own with a fresh pumpkin. To make a puree, cut a pie/sugar pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, and scrape the inside clean. Roast the cleaned out pumpkin halves in a 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes. You will know they are done when the flesh is soft and the skin is dark orange. Remove the pumpkins from the oven and, once they have cooled a little, remove the skin, which will peel off easily. Finally, use a food processor to puree the flesh until it is smooth. Now it is ready to use in all of your traditional fall dishes. If you wish to preserve your puree to use later, portion it in a zip top bag and freeze it.

Pumpkins are a delicious part of the fall holidays. If you haven’t experimented with fresh pumpkin dishes, now is the time to test some new recipes and maybe even discover a new dish that will become a treasured part of your Thanksgiving feast.