Years ago, when I was living in Geneva, October arrived and I knew the time had come to introduce my Swiss counterparts to the joys of pumpkin carving, pumpkin pie and all things pumpkin.

Knowing the Seattle markets would be full of those lovely orange members of the gourd family, I realized I had no idea what the French word for "pumpkin" was - it was not a word that had come up in conversation during my nearly one year living there.

I scoured the markets, both outdoor and supermarché but couldn't find any pumpkins. Thus I was resigned to describing, complete with hand motions, this common American gourd.

Acknowledging certain confusion, I found the French have both a masculine (le potiron) and feminine (la citrouille) word for pumpkin. As I've researched the word "pumpkin" for this article, I have found that we, in fact, have two main categories for our orange fruits of October: pumpkin and sugar pumpkin.

The former has been cultivated to grow larger and is thus stringier, less sweet and used primarily for carving and sometimes for soup. The smaller, sweeter sugar pumpkin, which produces a smoother-textured purée, is best used for pies and cakes.

Each October, you have no doubt noticed (or fallen over!) the enormous mountain of pumpkins in the parking lot of Bert's Red Apple, while the smaller sugar pumpkins are gracefully piled on a table at the entrance. Unlike its huge orange counterpart, the sugar pumpkin can be easily converted to usable "flesh" by cooking in a variety of ways to soften the tough skin.

I find the easiest method is to first wash, then cut, the sugar pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Place both halves cut-side down on a greased cookie sheet or in a greased baking pan and roast at 375 degrees for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it is very soft. Allow to cool and then scoop the flesh off the skin, which will be very easy to do.

Depending on the density of the pumpkin, you can either mash it with a potato masher or purée it in a food processor.

A wonderful culinary benefit to sugar pumpkins is that they can be paired with sweet ingredients to make an alternative to sweet potato at Thanksgiving, with maple syrup or brown sugar, or for savory dishes with browned butter and sage or sautéed mushrooms.

Pumpkins are both low in calories (until you add the maple syrup) and rich in beta carotene and Vitamin A.

Pumpkins have been cultivated for more than 9,000 years and appear in recipes all over the world, from Turkish rice and pumpkin dishes, Middle Eastern desserts and Tunisian couscous.

And surprisingly I discovered that my dear Swiss friend Gabrielle, while never having carved a Jack o' Lantern, has for years made soupe au potiron, which she serves in a second, hollowed-out pumpkin for a show-stopping presentation.