Have you ever roasted your own pumpkin? How about a butternut squash, a spaghetti squash or a delicata? Roasted winter squash (including pumpkin) is delicious, healthful and versatile. The heat of roasting brings out the natural sugars in the flesh, and creates a soft pulp that can be eaten as is, whipped up with butter, or incorporated into all kinds of recipes. My favorite has to be pancakes, where it adds a creamy texture, flavor, fiber and vitamins—especially valuable in gluten free items.

Roasting your own pumpkin and other winter squash is less expensive than buying canned. It is also not at all difficult, provided you have a good sized, sharp knife of a decent weight. Any winter squash can be handled essentially the same way: rinse the outside, cut in half though the stem end, clean out the insides with a spoon, and roast cut side down on a baking sheet with low sides. I recommend 350F, for 30-40 minutes depending on size and type. Keep an eye on it—when the skin is tanned, the flesh is soft (pierces through the skin easily with a fork), and liquid has started bubbling out from under, your squash is done. Allow them to cool a bit and then flip the halves over. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh. Use it right away, or cool and measure recipe-sized portions (I usually do 1, 1.5 or 2 cups) into ziplocks or other freezer-safe containers, and put in the freezer for later.

Winter squash seeds can (must!) also be saved and roasted, which is an extra treat. When cleaning them out of the raw squash, I recommend using your fingers to find the seeds and pull them from the tangle of squash innards, set them aside in a bowl, and THEN go back to scrape the stringy bits away from the flesh with a spoon. Pick out the larger bits of strings that may cling to the seeds, but don't sweat it too much. Then add a teaspoon of sea salt and cover with water to soak for an hour or more. After draining, you can allow them to dry a bit, or immediately toss with olive oil and a sprinkling more of salt. Spread the seeds out on a low-sided baking sheet, and place in a pre-heated oven at around 325F for about 10 minutes. Again, keep an eye on them—they are done when they smell and taste lightly toasted, and that transformation happens quickly. If you are not sure, pull one out and give it a nibble. The insides may become scorched before the outsides appear toasted.

Keep in mind as you carve your Halloween pumpkins that not all pumpkins are for eating. Aside from the question of how your pumpkin was grown (what was in the soil or sprayed on it, that is inside now?), the larger pumpkins we generally prefer for jack-o-lanterns are going to be tough and flavorless. If you want to eat it, go for a sugar pumpkin, which tend to be smaller, or one of the many other pumpkin-like squashes that are sold for eating.

There are are some good resources on the web for selecting, storing, preparing and using winter squash and their seeds. This article has good advice on selecting squash, but I personally do not recommend bothering with the peeling step that it advocates before cooking: http://www.simplebites.net/how-to-select-prepare-cook-winter-squash/