Most people on this side of the Atlantic Ocean grew up knowing pumpkins in four main ways: as jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween, as blue-ribbon winners at state fairs, as crack-and-spit seed snacks and as the primary ingredient in Thanksgiving pies.
Oh yes, we mustn't forget Cinderella's coach.
Every now and then, a daring soul puts pumpkin soup on the table, but unless diners are properly primed, the proffered bowl is met with, at best, polite skepticism.
As much fun as it is to carve, grow and show pumpkins, there are myriad other uses for our round orange friends: fritters, waffles, muffins, breads, soups, stews, puddings and casseroles.
Georgia Massie, who owns Georgia's Farmers' Market in Plano, Texas, has been proselytizing on behalf of the pumpkin for years.
Ask her about pumpkins and she'll be glad to tell you about them. About the large "Jack O'Lantern" pumpkins popularized in Peanuts cartoons and fairy tales. Or Oz, Baby Pam and New England Pam, the most popular pie varieties. And don't forget orange and white miniatures, good for decorative candleholders, place cards or individual serving bowls for soup.
Not to mention the white Ghost pumpkin; one called Cinderella that is deep orange; Fairy Tale, a rounder, flatter, brownish pumpkin; Storybook, dark green or buff-colored fruit with green markings; Neck, which looks more like a butternut squash; and Indian (or Buckskin). Massie says the smaller varieties are better for cooking and eating because the flesh has more flavor and is less stringy.
"People don't realize there are all these different kinds," she says. "I tell folks all the time, anything you can make with sweet potatoes or squash, you can make with pumpkin."
Back in the '80s, Massie wrote and self-published the cookbook "Fresh Ideas for Vegetable Cooking," which is available at some bookstores. It contains about 365 recipes for squash, including several for pumpkin.
Recipes for pumpkin dishes are more common than might be imagined. They can be found in cookbooks ranging from traditional to regional to ethnic, and even in one dedicated to recipes by jazz musicians.
In a beautiful little book called "Play With Your Pumpkins" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $10.95), French, Indian and Indonesian recipes are interspersed with wonderfully whimsical pumpkin images. There's even a German one for pumpkin pickles.
In her book "The Sephardic Table: The Vibrant Cooking of the Mediterranean Jews" (Houghton Mifflin, $16), author Pamela Grau Twena shares recipes from Middle Eastern cultures. During her stay in Israel, Twena became particularly fond of an Iraqi sweet-and-sour pumpkin soup with meatballs that unites ingredients that might seem strange to the Western palate: pumpkin, apricots, prunes, raisins and lemon juice.
In "Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95), saxophonist Oliver Lake tells of growing up in a family of restaurateurs. He makes pumpkin fritters, which he enjoys as an hors d'oeuvre, a side dish or as an accompaniment to roast chicken or fried fish.
When author Angela Shelf Medearis was doing research for "The African-American Kitchen: Cooking From Our Heritage" (Plume, $14.95), she found something called lamb taushe, a stew served throughout Africa. It calls for diced pumpkin, peanut butter, onion and chopped tomato. She even found a recipe for pumpkin meatloaf baked and served inside a pumpkin.
"I think I found the meatloaf recipe in an old slave cookbook, but the lamb stew came from a collection of African recipes published and sold at the 1964 World's Fair," she says. "I did make some modifications, though. A lot of people are going to be leery, but the peanut butter-onion-tomato combination is just wonderful. With a salad and some fresh baked bread, it's a perfect winter dish."
For the adventurous cook who is determined to serve pumpkin pie as a holiday staple, but at the same time is looking for something a little different, there's a recipe for lemon-pumpkin pie in "Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Preserving and Drying What You Grow," available in paperback (Rodale Press, $14.95).
Or, you could pick up a copy of "Zucchini, Pumpkins & Squash" (Chronicle Books, $10.95), and choose from among several of author Kathleen Desmond Stang's pumpkin recipes: Pumpkin Ice Cream With Pecan Brittle, Pumpkin-Hazelnut Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting, Corn Chowder in miniature pumpkin shells, or, in a nod to the folks who gave us Thanksgiving, American Indian Pumpkin Pudding.
Caroline Hunt is not sure where her affinity for pumpkins originated, but she also wrote a cookbook devoted to the orange orb. And she and her former husband once owned a fleet of orange-painted helicopters called Pumpkin Air.