In Ireland pumpkins have pretty much always only been grown for carving at Halloween. We've never really done squashes or pumpkins for cooking like the English or our other European friends and I think we've been missing out. The first time I tasted pumpkin was when I was working on a sheep farm in New Zealand. The farmer and his wife roasted a beautiful leg of lamb with roast pumpkin, roast potatoes and fresh mint sauce and as a poor student living on spaghetti alla ketchup for most of the winter, I can safely say it was the best meal I had there. But I couldn't get over how delicious the pumpkin was. I had never tasted any pumpkin or squash before that and I was a fan straight away. Since then I have tried a few different types and while they all have a similar squashy taste, they can very quite a lot in sweetness, strength of flavour and texture.
Butternut Squash has been readily available in Ireland for a good few years now but here are a few other varieties starting to make an appearance when the season starts, which is around now. These are generally brought in from France where they have made a huge effort to revive these and other "legume d'antan" (forgotten vegetables).
Potimarron. Aka the "Hokkiado" or "Red Kuri" are small round squashes with a beautiful deep orange colour. They are in season from early Autumn through the winter. They have a slight chestnut flavour and are lovely for making soups, but the best thing about them is that the skins are edible! This makes them much easier and quicker to cook rather than the butternuts that can take and age to prepare. Just chop them up, roast them in the oven and voila! the perfect accompaniment to roast lamb!
Patidou. Aka "Carnival Squash". This squash has a wonderful range of colours on their skin. Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds and you can stuff them with whatever filling tickles your fancy. Or you can cut the top off, roast them whole, serve soup in them or even a bake an egg in them.
Spaghetti Squash. This is a really interesting one. It gets its name because when you cook it and scoop it away from the skin, it comes away in spaghetti like strands. It tastes like squash with a light nutty flavour but it's not that strong which is actually good because it is mainly used as a replacement for pasta or noodles and absorbs the flavours of the sauces / ingredients it is cooked with.
Jack be Little. These little fellas are great for display around Halloween but are edible and quite tasty too. They are perfect for roasting whole or stuffing but I wouldn't recommend peeling and chopping them because they would be too fiddly.
Apart from these edible pumpkins, there are loads of cool display squashes and gourds as well. These are brilliant for Halloween and some of them are really ugly. There are also some prettier ones though and if you grow really attached to them you can dry them out and keep them as ornaments! It takes a few months though so you have to be patient. Choose a dry, well ventilated spot out of direct sunlight and make sure to turn them every week or so. The skin will become hard and the inside hollow. The seeds will harden up as well and you'll know they're ready when you shake them and the seeds rattle around inside.