Almost overnight pumpkins have appeared on porches, garden centers, grocery stores, roadside stands and the farmers market.

Most impressive is the pumpkin set-up at the south Apache Mall parking lot. Set up by DeCook Farm Produce from Stewartville, it's like a concrete pumpkin patch with literally hundreds in very size and shape.

Pumpkin season is definitely underway and the choices are going to make it hard to find just the right one. There are the round jack-o'-lanterns, from small to medium to huge; mini ones in a range of colors; smooth ones, bumpy ones, striped and solid.

Orange, of course, is iconic, but then there are shades of white and orange, some with stripes, others with unusual growths like bumps down their sides .(I'm calling those witches pumpkins). Most will end up as jack-o'-lanterns while others could become ingredients in a variety of fall dishes.

Though most of us think of pie when we think of pumpkin as an ingrient, creative cooks and bakers have come up with some classics, some of which have been around nearly as long as pie. Doesn't everyone have a recipe for pumpkin bread? Moist and flavorful with cinnamon, ginger and clove spices, it's a decades-long favorite. Perfect with a morning cup of coffee. Then there are pumpkin donuts, cookies, muffins, ice cream and Starbucks' iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte which sells by the millions.

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Cooks also have cut up pumpkin chunks and added them to stews and soups.

Pumpkin puree is being added to risotto, ravioli, mixed in with morning oatmeal and even shows up in hummus.

However, at the end of the day, pumpkin pie still rules. It's a holiday favorite with more than 50 million baked. Leading the charge is Costco which sells at least 6.1 million per season.

Here's something to think about: Is a can of pumpkin puree real pumpkin? Unless it says "100 percent pumpkin" on the front of the label, it's likely a combination of sweet squashes. Reading that, I went to my pantry. Festal says very clearly it's 100 percent pumpkin. There weren't many cans on the HyVee shelf when I went to check, but Libby's said the same. You'll want to check the pumpkin pie mix as well if that's what you use. Culinary purists may be able to tell the difference. I can't.

Is pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable? Botanists call it a fruit because it comes from the seed-bearing structure of flowering plants. Because they are less sweet and more savory, we categorize them as a vegetable. Actually, they wear two hats.

This fruit/vegetable has hundreds of years of history in our country, beginning with the American Indians for whom pumpkins were an important food source. Pumpkins were part of a crop known as "Three Sisters" which included corn and beans.

Once the Pilgrims arrived, the Indians introduced them to pumpkins, teaching the colonists how to prepare them. One involved scooping out the insides and filling the shell with a honey ginger-spiced milk that was then roasted in fire ash for hours. This may well have been the precursor to the pies they served at following Thanksgivings, though without crusts. Those came years later.

It wasn't until 1796 that an authentic American cookbook "American Cookery, by an American Orphan," compiled by Amelia Simmons, was published. The pumpkin puddings she included were baked in a crust, and so pumpkin pie pretty much as we know it came to be.

Over the decades as folks experimented with this new crop other other recipes followed. Here are a few:

PUMPKIN COOKIES

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 tablespoon pumpkin spice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons candied ginger (optional)

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon milk

In a bowl mix glaze ingredients together while cookies bake.

Preheat oven to 350. Put sheets of parchment on cookie sheets.

Whisk dry ingredients together into a bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla followed by pumpkin puree and ginger. On low, mix in the dry ingredients until evenly incorporated.

Scoop batter onto cookie sheets. Smooth the tops. Bake about 15 minutes or until risen and firm. While cookies are still warm, spoon glaze on and spread slightly. Cool completely.

ROASTED GARLIC AND PUMPKIN HUMMUS

To roast garlic, put 1/2 cup olive oil and 3 smashed garlic cloves in a small ramekin and bake at 375 until garlic turns a light golden color, about 15 minutes. Take out and set aside.

HUMMUS

1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons tahini

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Kosher salt to taste

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Add the roasted garlic and 2 tablespoons of the oil in the ramekin to a food processor. Add the chickpeas, pumpkin puree, lemon juice, tahini, pumpkin pie spice and a pinch of salt. Whirl until very smooth, then add a touch more of the garlic oil. Taste and add a little more salt and lemon juice if needed.

Pour into a bowl and drizzle any of the remaining oil over. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours and preferably overnight.

When ready to serve, toast seeds in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Sprinkle with a little salt and sprinkle over the hummus.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PUREE

It's best to use sugar pumpkins or a variety meant for cooking. Wash well, then using a sharp knife cut in half. With a spoon scrape out seeds and pulp. You might want to save the seeds to roast.

Roast cut-sides up in a 400 oven for 45 minute or until flesh is soft and easily pierced with a knife.

When cool, scoop out the flesh and put in food processor. Process until very smooth. At this point you may want to put puree into a sieve and let any water drain off. This will take maybe an hour, at most. It's now ready to use in any recipe calling for canned or pureed pumpkin.

Food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.