Dallas — Like Cinderella, Caroline Hunt Schoellkopf has a great respect for the colorful but common American pumpkin. And while the fairy-tale cindermaid wished her pumpkin would remain a glorious coach, Mrs. Schoellkopf is happy with the pumpkin as it is.
She thinks, though, that it should be a year-round vegetable and recommends using frozen pumpkin as well as fresh for many special dishes.
A restaurant consultant and author of a book on pumpkins, she has even carted the harvest from her pumpkin patch on the coast of Texas all the way back home to Dallas by air.
A bumper crop of pumpkins one season even inspired her husband to paint his planes orange and name his air charter service ''Pumpkin Air.''
Mrs. Schoellkopf thinks this colorful American vegetable needs more appreciation than it's getting in its native land. Other countries serve pumpkin in many ways, while we seem to be satisfied with baking it in an occasional pie in the fall season.
In Italy, she has been served ravioli stuffed with pumpkin. ''It was wonderful,'' she says.
''I travel a lot and have seen people using pumpkin in all kinds of dishes, while we Americans are feeding most of our bountiful crop to cattle,'' she adds. ''What a pity we aren't fully utilizing a food so economical and delicious.''
She has collected a lot of recipes for pumpkin. What started off as ways to use children's jack-o'-lanterns blossomed into a book. Called ''The Compleat Pumpkin Eater'' (P.M. Press), the book is a collection of some 440 recipes using pumpkin.
Pumpkin has also spilled over into tempting fare on the menu of some elegant restaurants, like The Mansion on Turtle Creek, in Dallas.
If all of this sounds like a tall Texas tale, imagine savoring a delicate, airy Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pumpkin Raisin Muffins, or ''Potage Puree de Potiron.''
They were created for the book by chef Christian Chemin, chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, named one of 25 outstanding hotels in the United States in the publication ''Dream Resorts and Hideaways.''
Mrs. Schoellkopf has helped develop this award-winning restaurant and hotel. With her five children she has also helped to launch the luxurious restaurant and hotel The Remington in Post Oak Park in Houston and to renovate the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.
Wolfgang Puck of Los Angeles, consultant for the three restaurants, has created a special pasta dish with pumpkin for the posh eating establishments.
In researching the pumpkin, Mrs. Schoellkopf discovered that it is not really a vegetable.
''Botanically speaking, these giant gourds are berries, because they are formed from a single pistil of the flower,'' she says.
''The pumpkin has a hard rind, and along with the squashes, melons, and cucumbers, it is a type of berry known as pepo.''
In China, Europe, and Africa, pumpkin is prepared in a variety of ways. The American Indians used it as flour and dried thin slices of it in the sun.
Mrs. Schoellkopf says that many of her recipes are best made with fresh or frozen pumpkin, because the high temperatures and long cooking required for canning alter the sugar, thus changing the flavor.
To ensure having lots on hand, she freezes blanched pumpkin to be used later pureed or as cubes.
''A whole pumpkin will keep for months if kept in a cool dry place,'' she adds.
One of her favorite recipes is a caramelized pumpkin pie in which, she says, ''the natural sugar in the pumpkin is caramelized by long cooking over low heat.''
Here is the recipe. Caramelized Pumpkin Pie 3 tablespoons margarine 2 cups cooked pumpkin puree 1 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon butter 3 cups milk, scalded 1 cup light cream 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ginger 2 eggs, well beaten 2 unbaked pastry shells
Melt margarine in a heavy skillet and cook pumpkin puree over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the natural sugars caramelize.
It should be a rich golden brown and quite dry. Two cups of puree should reduce to 1 1/2 cups of caramelized pumpkin in 20 minutes.
Mixing well after each addition, add sugar, flour, scalded milk, butter, cream, spices, and beaten eggs to pumpkin.
Fill unbaked pie shells only about 3/4 inch full, as the filling will expand while baking.
Bake in a preheated 450-degree F. oven for 1/2 hour, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F. and bake about 15 minutes until crust is well browned.
Test by inserting a knife in the center. Pie is done when knife comes out clean. Makes 2 pies.
The ''Compleat Pumpkin Eater'' is available in a few bookstores, or by mail for $15 plus $1 mailing charge (Texas residents add 6 percent tax). Write to P. M. Press, PO Box 1110, Addison, Texas 75001.