Choose winter squash which are heavy for their size, with a hard unblemished skin. Very large ones are great for lanterns but generally have a less good flavour.
Whole pumpkins and winter squash will keep for months in a cool place, but cut ones need using up straightaway, as do any which develop soft spots.
Tough skin and large seeds differentiate winter squash from summer squash like courgette and patty pan.
Turn pumpkin seeds in a splash of olive oil and a scattering of salt, then roast them in a hot oven until dried and lightly browned. Crunch them as a snack.
The water content of squashes and their skin/flesh/seed ratio varies enormously, but as a rough guide, assume a squash will yield half to two thirds of its weight in usable flesh, and two thirds of that in cooked pulp.
Cooked pumpkin does not keep well, except if it is frozen. The Jack O'Lantern originated in Ireland where it was made with turnips or potatoes. Irish immigrants to the States found that pumpkins were easier to hollow out, and looked more impressive.
To cook pumpkin simply, cut slices and peel them. Then either steam the pieces, or cook them in their own juices in a tightly lidded pan. Avoid boiling pumpkin, as it loses its delicate flavour and becomes water-logged. Baking slices, brushed with oil first, in a medium-hot oven is a particularly good way of bringing out the sweetness and nutty flavour: they can be peeled either before or after baking. For soup, the Australians, for whom pumpkin practically qualifies as a national vegetable, favour cooking it in milk, but the best flavour still comes from baking it.
Nowadays pumpkins have a special status as a vegetable. Americans couldn't imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, and Hallowe'en wouldn't be the same without a grinning pumpkin face. Cinderella drove to the ball in a pumpkin coach,
and Peter, pumpkin eater, kept his wife in a pumpkin shell. In fact, the bright orange pumpkin is just another winter squash, one of dozens of kinds like Acorn, Turban and New Zealand Blue. Any of these can be adapted to pumpkin recipes: I favour butternut squash for its sweet flavour and firm texture when cooked.