Middlefield pumpkins

Pumpkins with barn at produce stand, Middlefield, Connecticut, USA (Superstock photo)

The orange pumpkin. The jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Cucurbita pepo. Or, the Connecticut Field pumpkin.

That's right. The same fruits (that's right, pumpkins are fruit) found in so many of Connecticut's fields (from Easton to Guilford to Glastonbury) are actually known as Connecticut Field pumpkins.

Maybe that explains why pumpkin has become the go-to gourd for Connecticut chefs, bakers, baristas, and bartenders. Pumpkin's becoming increasingly ubiquitous with each passing fall. In New Haven, you can't walk up Chapel Street without passing an establishment that serves pumpkin-flavored something or other, whether that something is a pumpkin spice latte, or a pumpkin donut, or a pumpkin spice martini.

Or maybe it's the pumpkin's exceptional nutritional value. It's filled with fiber, beta carotene, vitamin A, and much, much more. (No word on whether all these nutrients manage to work into a pumpkin spice martini.) Native Americans used the pumpkin for pretty much everything — dried and ground into meal for bread, roasted over a fire and eaten in strips, cooked in stews, even as household objects (though probably not in that Martha Stewart, decorative candle-holder sort of way.)

But what's more likely a factor in the pumpkin pervasion is the gourd's versatility. A little sweet, a little spicy, and all-around feel-goody, pumpkin basically tastes like autumn in your mouth. The pulp's soft, giving texture, and subtle flavor allow it to be seasoned with cinnamon, clove, brown sugar, and more — so much so that we've come to associate these flavors with pumpkin on an almost exclusive basis. (If you think about it, pumpkin spice lattes are really just pumpkin pie lattes.)

Then there's all the Pavlovian associations with holiday family gatherings, time off from school, giant parades on TV, leaves crunching beneath one's feet, that Charlie Brown holiday special, picking pumpkins from the pumpkin patch, and carving jack-o-lanterns. Bottom line: pumpkin is a feel-good kind of fruit; the kind of food that makes you feel all Remembrance of Things Past-ish, even if the things past weren't even worth remembering the first time around.

Drink 'Em

Starbucks has it. So does Dunkin Donuts. Your neighborhood coffee house probably has it, too. And so does the local watering hole. What is it?

Why, it's the great pumpkin beverage, Charlie Brown!

More than a figment of Linus' imagination, the pumpkin can be found in pretty much everything you drink these days. Take beer, for instance. Hamden beer mecca Mikro (3000 Whitney Ave.; 203-553-7676, mikrobeerbar.com) has so many pumpkin beers on the line right now, they've just hosted a special pumpkin beer tasting dinner.

For those who prefer to drink at home, New Haven's Wine Thief (181 Crown St., 203-772-1944, and 378 Whitney Ave., 203-865-4845; thewinethief.com) carries a rotating selection of seasonal beers, several of which include pumpkin flavoring. (So does Whole Foods, with locations in Milford, Greenwich, Darien, and West Hartford.) And M&R Liquors (214 West Main St., Avon; 860-678-1997, mandrliquors.com) offers two pumpkin wines.

Also in Avon, Pappacelle (152 Simsbury Road; 860-269-3121, papacelle.com) serves a pumpkin spice martini. In New Haven, you'll find similar cinnamon-sweet concoctions at Press (932 State St.; 203-787-0227, presspizza.com) and Sullivan's (1166 Chapel St.; 203-777-4367, sullivansonchapel.com).

And the near-ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte is a perennial favorite at Starbucks nationwide – and it's here to stay through the holiday season. So for a warm, tingly-inside sort of feeling, tuck into a pint, or a cup, or a glass of pumpkin this autumn. Chances are, it's right around the corner.

Bake 'Em

Pumpkin pie is really only the beginning here. That delicious, gloopy, amber substance of yore (gelatinous and miraculously formed out of the can, rivaled only by cranberry "sauce") has grown up. Now, pumpkin baked goods of all varieties abound. In New Haven, pumpkin bars can be found at bookstore-cum-cafe Atticus (1082 Chapel St.; 203-776-4040, atticusbookstorecafe.com). For the gluten and sugar averse, Edge of the Woods makes a pumpkin spelt bread (379 Whalley Ave.; 203-787-1055, eotwm.com).

In Norwalk, pumpkin takes a turn for the savory at Match (98 Washington St.; 203-852-1088, matchsono.com) where a pumpkin spice risotto is served baked inside a small pumpkin, with mascarpone cheese to the side. For dessert, pumpkin pleasure seekers can stop by another Norwalk establishment, Sugar & Olives (21 ½ Lois St.; 203-454-3663, sugarandolives.com) for a snickerdoodle pumpkin ice cream sandwich.

In West Hartford, Rizzuto's (111 Memorial Road; 860-232-5000, rizzutos.com) offers a New England twist on an old Italian specialty — the cannoli — as part of their Harvest Supper Menu. In addition to pumpkin and white chocolate cannolis, gourd gorgers can find pumpkin chiffon cake, pumpkin and mascarpone ravioli.

Wash it all down with a pumpkin spice martini.

Pick 'Em

Connecticut has the second most pumpkin acreage in all of New England — and its own namesake pumpkin variety. Plus, fall in New England is basically glorious. Like something out of the movies. Actually, pretty much every movie set in New England involves lots of fall foliage shots, even the bleak ones about bad things that happen in nice homes (like The Ice Storm), which should tell you something.

Essentially, New England is fall in our nation's collective unconscious. And what's more of a fall activity than pumpkin picking? Nothing, that's what.

There is no better way to enjoy and celebrate the harvest season than to go harvest your own pumpkin. If you are a tourist, or a visiting student, put down whatever it is you are doing (besides reading this paper) and go pick a pumpkin right now (or as soon as you are finished reading this paper) because you will regret it if you don't.

You don't even know what you're missing right now, sitting here, reading this paper. I'll tell you what you're missing. Rolling fields filled with beautiful, round orange gourds, ripe for the baking, and the carving. And there are hayrides (like at Rose's Berry Farm; 295 Matson Hill Road, South Glastonbury, 860-233-7467, rosesberryfarm.com) in which two majestic looking (but likely slightly ornery) draft horses (or a tractor) pull you through the pumpkin patch, while you (and gaggles of children) ooh and ah and sip hot apple cider and smell the crisp fall air while wearing sweaters.

Or you can visit a petting zoo, like the ones at Bishop's Orchards (1355 Boston Post Road, Guilford; 203-453-2338, bishopsorchards.com) and Silverman's Farm (451 Sport Hill Road, Easton; 203-261-3306, silvermansfarm.com). Again, expect lots of warm and fuzzy moments involving children, fresh air, and sweaters.

The pumpkin patch is the zenith of all things autumn, and we're lucky to have so many in Connecticut. Stop by one this fall — and bring a sweater.