STAND back, here they come. By the ton. It's pumpkin time, and if there are any children in your family, you don't have to be reminded.
Mountains of them spill from old wagons displayed in off-the-road markets. Pyramids of them are trucked into city supermarkets along with the obligatory bunches of dried cornstalks. And a dried gourd or two.
Athough most pumpkins end up carved with a toothless smile and are left to collapse ignominiously on the front steps, these winter squashes can be turned into more than silly faces.
One way to preserve them from an early demise is to paint rather than carve faces on them. This keeps Jack Frost, mildew, and uninvited insects from doing early damage to their sensitive orange flesh. This way, too, the kids are happy, and the superficial grins can be peeled away and seeds and flesh eaten.
Those pumpkins that do make it into the kitchen usually leave in the form of a pie. As fine and traditional as pies are, there are more-imaginative ways to bring pumpkins to the dessert table.
Kept from the frost and in a cool, well-ventilated area, an uncarved pumpkin that spooks Halloween trick-or-treaters can be used in a Thanksgiving dish and later as a pudding for Christmas. Three holiday treats from one pumpkin!
When picking out pumpkins for eating, it's best to ask for sugar varieties. Farm-stand attendants will know the difference. Supermarket clerks may not. These are usually the smaller, round pumpkins. Leave the bulbous behemoths to Cinderella & Co. Although these larger ones are edible, the flesh is apt to be more watery and stringy.
Make sure pumpkin stems are intact and are not shriveled -- an added insurance against dehydration.
Small pumpkins yield about half their weight in edible flesh. A six-pounder will bring three pounds of flesh after it is peeled, trimmed, and seeded.
Cooked pumpkin may be kept frozen for several months. Chunks of fresh pumpkin protected by plastic wrap will keep about a week in the refrigerator.
In many recipes, like the following, winter squashes may be substituted for pumpkin.
Pumpkin may be cooked in water -- like boiled potatoes -- steamed, or baked at 300 degrees F. until tender. Of course canned pumpkin may be substituted in any of the following recipes. Pumpkin Spice Cake 1 cup packed brown sugar 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 2 large eggs 3/4 cup cooked pumpkin, pur'eed or sieved 2 cups sifted cake flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 cup buttermilk 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine brown sugar and butter in large mixing bowl and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and pumpkin and mix thoroughly. Combine all dry ingredients, sift, and add to pumpkin mix, alternating with milk.
Process at slow speed, if using an electric mixer, until batter is smooth.
Fold in nuts and pour mixture into well-greased and lightly floured 11-by-14-by-2-inch cake pan, or two 8-by-9-inch pans. Bake for about 35 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed in center.
Remove from oven and cool on rack. Run knife around edge and remove from pan. Cake may then be frosted if desired.
In ``The Victory Garden Cookbook'' (Knopf, $15.95 paperback), Marion Morash includes the following recipe for Pumpkin Br^ul'ee. ``This absolutely divine dessert is best made well ahead of time,'' she advises. ``You must use a refrigerator-to-oven dish [and] will end up with a crisp sugar caramel on top of a velvety cream custard.'' Pumpkin Br^ul'ee 3 cups heavy cream 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 6 egg yolks 6 tablespoons superfine sugar 3/4 cup finely pur'eed cooked pumpkin 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon Pinch salt 1/2 cup brown sugar
Scald cream and vanilla. Beat egg yolks and sugar until lightly colored and thick; beat in pumpkin, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly whisk in the hot cream. Pour into a 6-cup or an 8-by-8-inch refrigerator-to-oven dish. Place in a baking pan and pour boiling water halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until custard is set (time depends upon height of baking dish). Chill for 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat broiler and place an oven rack 8 to 10 inches below it. Sieve brown sugar and sprinkle it evenly over custard. Place dish in a large pan and surround it with ice cubes. Place on broiler rack and, watching carefully, let the brown sugar heat until it just begins to bubble, brown, and melt.
Remove from broiler; cool for 10 minutes. Return to broiler and repeat the process. The sugar should become very brown, but not burned. Remove Pumpkin Br^ul'ee from oven and chill for 2 hours. Serves 6. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 1 cup pumpkin seeds 1 tablespoon vegetable oil Salt to taste.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Remove as much pulp from seeds as you can, but do not wash. Mix with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt.
Spread on cookie sheet and bake for one hour, or until seeds are dry. Sprinkle with more salt if desired.
If you do carve up your pumpkin, you can surely get enough pumpkin flesh from the leftover eyes, mouth, and nose to get half a cup of pumpkin for the following old New England recipe. Indian Cake 1 1/2 cups milk 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal 1/2 cup cooked pumpkin 1 tablespoon molasses 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup flour 2 tablespoons baking soda 1/4 cup butter
Scald milk and pour slowly over cornmeal, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Stir in cooked pumpkin and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in molasses, salt, flour, and baking soda.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Preheat a 9-inch cast-iron skillet on stove. Add butter. When melted, pour in batter. Stir constantly until it firms -- about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serve warm with butter.