My daughter Grace plants the orange pumpkins in our household, which are used for Jack-o'-lanterns.
I plant for flavor, and I am a blue-green convert. The most delicious of all pumpkins, in my opinion, is an Australian variety called 'Jarrahdale', the smoother-skinned, lighter blue variety in the photo above.
Cut it open, and it has beautiful orange walls, super-thick, with a relatively small seed cavity. And most important for pies is the fact that it is not watery or stringy: custards are ruined by watery or stringy pumpkin. It roasts up perfectly creamy, with a sweet pure flavor. (If you have never tasted pie made with homegrown pumpkin, you have not tasted pumkin pie. It bears no resemblance to the leaden pie made with canned pumpkin.)
This year, I also planted a variety I ordered from Seeds from Italy called 'Marina di Chioggia' that I am suddenly seeing everywhere, in every seed catalog and gardening magazine.
Clearly, that's because it is so unbelievably photogenic, it's practically a supermodel or David Beckham: really, really big, really, really warty, really, really blue with a bit of a turbanesque bottom. It's also a really productive garden plant. I got a nice haul from just two vines. I just cooked up my first 'Marina di Chioggia', which weighed so much, I could hardly lift the thing out of the cellar. Delicious, but different than 'Jarrahdale'. It's browner when cooked, with a slightly heavier, more sweet-potatoish texture. And since the great Elizabeth Schneider of the encyclopedia Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini informs me that pumpkins can have a chestnut flavor, I'll hazard this thought: It tastes like chestnuts.
Pumpkins are a wonderful in that they are easy to store. Unlike a lot of vegetables, they won't object to warm temperatures and will last a long time even on a countertop–longer, if you put them in the basement.
They are easy to store after they're cooked, too. You might get four pies out of a single pumpkin, but it you are not making four pies, roasted pumpkin freezes really well. I'll often just lazily shove an entire quarter of roasted pumpkin, skin and all, into a bag and into the freezer.
I use pumpkins mainly for soup, pies, and risotto with prosciutto. My friend Martha, a former chef, has been experimenting with savory custards for her 'Jarrahdales.' I was at dinner two weeks ago when she served one made with wild mushrooms. Spectacular.
The only problem with pumpkins in the garden–other than their typical cucurbit unwillingness to do anything until the soil has warmed up–is the amount of space they require. In a small garden, they will gladly overrun everything, with their giant leaves and ropelike vines.
I've been kicking mine out of the garden in recent years, into a meadow where the weeds are either beaten down from sitting under my mulch pile or mowed once by my husband. I'll expose a little soil with a pick, make little mounds for the seeds, mulch around them with a lot of hay, and then forget about them all summer. I have to hunt for the pumpkins among the goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed in early October, but they are always there.