The October fields at Farmer John's Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay, California, are painted in warm hues of orange, green, and gold, dotted with the 40-odd varieties that will soon take their place at the annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival.
Every so often, the low landscape is interrupted by sculptural, oversize fruits, giants grown by Farmer John Muller's wife, Eda. "Pumpkins are like people," John says. "They come in all shapes and sizes, and you really don't want them to be the same."
Many of the varieties growing here are edible, but most of John's customers will use their pumpkins for strictly decorative purposes, relying on canned pumpkin for their cooking. It's an atypically retro approach, using canned products in this world of farmers' markets and seasonal freshness.
True, fresh pumpkin requires a little more effort, but it can pay off with deeper, more intense flavor. The following two recipes, using pumpkin straight from the farm, are ample reward.
Most jack-o'-lantern pumpkins have thin walls and very wet flesh and are best used for carving. For cooking, look for varieties with thick walls and dense flesh. You'll find them at farms and farmers' markets.