When it comes to jack-o’-lanterns, any kid knows to find a pumpkin that sounds hollow when you knock on it. For cooking, however, dense pie pumpkins are best, especially those with solidly attached stems and no soft spots. Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia) gives a green-thumbs-up to Genesis Growers at the Green City Market (greencitymarket.org), but if you want to turn choosing your pumpkin into family fun, spend a day at Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm in Waukegan (krollsfarm.com).

No matter where you score your gourd, use it to make Zimmerman’s delectable no-fail recipe for jam. It’s good on anything—cinnamon toast, vanilla ice cream, a turkey sandwich, or even just your fingers.

Andrew Zimmerman’s Pumpkin Jam

Yield: About 1 quart
Prep time: 1 hour

1 Medium pumpkin (about 8 lb.)
2 Whole cloves
1 Small cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp. Water
4 oz. Ricotta salata, thinly shaved
  Sugar (about 4 cups)

1. Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds, peel, and cut the flesh into 2-inch cubes. (Reserve the seeds for roasting or discard.)

2. Stick the cloves into 2 different pumpkin cubes.

3. Put the pumpkin and cinnamon stick in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the pumpkin is very tender and as dry as possible (about 20 to 30 minutes).

4. Remove the spices, and purée the pumpkin in a food processor.

5. Measure the purée and return it to the pan. Add an equal amount of sugar. Cook gently until the sugar is melted and the mixture is translucent.

6. Cool on the counter before refrigerating.

Tips: Use a grapefruit spoon to scrape out the seeds. The exact weight of your pumpkin is not important; simply keep the purée and the sugar to the same ratio. For long-term storage techniques, read “Pressure-Canned Preserves” in The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant.