Orange winter squash go naturally with fall, and the big shot this time of year is the pumpkin. There's plenty of fuss over pumpkins for carving, but several varieties are dandy for cooking and eating.
Any pumpkin story in these parts would not be complete without consulting the folks at Venetucci Farm.
"Pumpkins have been grown here on Venetucci Farm for more than 60 years," said Susan Gordon, who manages the farm with her husband, Patrick Hamilton. "We have been growing them here for the past 11 years."
On 6 acres, they grow sugar pie pumpkins for the pumpkin giveaway to kids. This variety of pumpkin is under 4 pounds and the perfect size for little ones to turn into jack-o'-lanterns.
The late Nick Venetucci, who owned the farm, started the giveaway in the 1950s and operated it on one policy.
"You can take any pumpkin you want as long as you can carry it," Gordon said. "We also always encourage kids to see the pumpkins as food. We encourage kids to take them home, roast the seeds and make pie, muffins or cookies with the sweet, creamy meat inside."
Luxury pie pumpkins are a relatively new discovery for Gordon.
"I think it has replaced the long pie as my favorite (pumpkin)," she said. "It's creamier and more flavorful and also has a smaller seed cavity, which means more meat."
When it comes to cooking pumpkin, Gordon is not at a loss for ideas.
"I love to make pumpkin bread with my own squash, eggs and honey," she said. "My girls love pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, best fresh from the oven. And for cool fall mornings, you can't beat pumpkin pancakes made with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Real butter and real maple syrup top it off. These are a Sunday morning tradition, enjoyed after the morning chores are done."
Cortney Smith, vice president at Cooks Marketplace, pulls out her mom's pumpkin cake roll recipe during autumn.
"I'm not much of a pumpkin pie fan, so her recipe for the cake roll is my go-to Thanksgiving dessert," Smith said. "But I also like using it (pumpkin) in savory dishes like a roasted pumpkin and apple soup with a fig balsamic drizzle.
"Anything I can do to change pumpkin pie from the ordinary, I will do. I've done pumpkin and apple, pumpkin caramel, and pumpkin cream cheese. But my favorite is probably a pumpkin pie topped with pepita brittle (raw pumpkin seed brittle) and orange whipped cream."
She shops for sugar pie pumpkins because they have a better taste and creamier texture.
"I've used the baby pumpkins for serving," Smith said. "We cut off the tops, bake them, scoop out the flesh, then use them as soup bowls for pumpkin soup. It's a fun way to jazz up the Thanksgiving table."
If you want more pumpkin inspiration, check out Smith's pumpkin cooking class at Cooks Marketplace, 4697 Centennial Blvd., 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 26, which is National Pumpkin Day. For $65, you'll learn how to make spiced pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin apple pie, pumpkin cranberry bread, pumpkin bars with white chocolate cream cheese frosting and ginger pumpkin cheesecake parfaits. Call 960-4414 or visit thecooksmarketplace.com.