Save the hefty, perfectly shaped jack-o’-lantern varieties like Connecticut Field and Spirit for Halloween; their flesh is thin and stringy, with little flavor. But in the fall, farmers’ markets and pumpkin patches are brimming with heirloom varieties that are great for cooking, so watch for rare finds.
Local pumpkins will vary by region, but these are three relatively common types that make delicious eating. Most can be substituted for one another, unless a recipe calls for a specific type:
Sugar Pie (and the similar Baby Pam and New England Pie) These small, volleyball-size, thin-skinned, burnt-orange pumpkins are probably the most commonly found baking pumpkins. They have sweet, smooth flesh that tends to be firm and dry, so they’re especially good for pie. If you find one with stringy flesh, don’t bake or cook with it, because it will spoil the texture of the finished dish.
Casper Casper pumpkins are white on the outside and dark orange inside. They resemble the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin in shape and tend to be heavy, at 10 to 20 pounds.
Marina di Chioggia (aka Chioggia Sea Pumpkin) This Italian heirloom pumpkin originally comes from Chioggia, near Venice. It’s a large (about 10 pounds), blue-green, bumpy, ridged pumpkin, with dense, meaty, yellow-orange flesh.
Look for pumpkins that are free of cracks and soft spots. Be sure to inspect both the stem and bottom ends. If you’re at a farmers’ market or pumpkin patch, ask the farmer if the pumpkins have been exposed to frost. If they have, they will spoil quickly.
Most pumpkins can be stored, or cellared, in a cool, dark place for two to six months, depending on the variety. Arrange them in a single layer on top of a breathable surface such as cardboard or wood. Check on them every two weeks and immediately use (or discard) any that are starting to soften.