Can you eat a jack-o-lantern? And other thoughts and tips when cooking with whole pumpkins

Photo by Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times

Photo by Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times

The pumpkin is sweating, and so am I.

I've got my knife an inch into the watermelon-sized orb, which is staring at me all like, "I'm too cute to be dinner!"

It is adorable, deep orange and perfectly ridged, sitting just slightly lopsided with a stem jutting out the top. It conjures pumpkin patches and spooky front porches on Halloween night. It seems a little out of place next to my stove.

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I raise my elbow, angle the knife downward, and plunge it further into the flesh.

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Let's start with this: You can eat your jack-o'-lantern.

Roasted, pureed, cubed — technically, all pumpkins are edible. But there are important distinctions to make when you set out to cook with whole pumpkins, like I did on one recent 95-degree October day.

The pumpkins most suitable for carving into fun Halloween decorations are typically grown specifically for that purpose, bred to be larger and more hollow. They are not ideal for cooking, more watery and less tasty than smaller, sweeter varieties. (I also can't vouch for the safety of all pumpkins sold in stores that are not labeled for cooking.) In Florida, the recipe-friendly varieties are mainly sugar or pie pumpkins, those smaller, 4- to 6-pound cuties you see at most grocery stores this time of year.

Carving pumpkins are harder to cook with, like a stubborn sweet potato but 10 times bigger. But I had to know: If it could be done, could I do it? And what would it taste like?