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Five tips for selecting and storing your gourd.

When fall finally hits the South, you can find us in the kitchen enjoying savory and sweet dishes full of seasonal spices and fresh produce. One thing we absolutely love to cook with in the fall is fresh pumpkin. This gourd can be used in an abundance of sweet treats: Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pumpkin-Spice Bundt Cake, and Pumpkin-Lemon Cream Cheese Chess Pie. Pumpkin is also perfect for delicious, savory dishes: Pumpkin-and-Winter Squash Gratin, Slow-Cooker Chicken Stew with Pumpkin and Wild Rice, and Pumpkin Beer-Cheese Soup. If you’ve never used fresh pumpkin before, you might be a little confused about where to start. Here are 5 easy steps to follow for picking out the best pumpkin and making sure it stays fresh.

1. Choose the Right Kind

For cooking, you'll want to use sugar pumpkins (also called pie or sweet pumpkins), which are small and round. Long Island Cheese pumpkins, which are more oblong and can look like a wheel of cheese, are also good to eat. Field types are larger; have watery, stringy flesh; and are best used for decorating.

2. Search for a Healthy Stem

Find a pumpkin with a well-attached, brown, dry stem (a sign it's mature enough to be harvested), but don't use it as a carrying handle. The stem can break off, tearing the shell and leaving it susceptible to rot.

3. Examine Thoroughly

Look for deep nicks, bruises, and soft spots—all signs that rot has set in. Don't overlook the bottom of the pumpkin, which can sit for long periods of time in wet soil.

WATCH: How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

4. Don't Judge the Gourd by Its Color

A pumpkin's hue will dull as it ages, but as long as the skin is unblemished and free of bruises, the flesh inside will still be sweet and edible.

5. Store It Properly

Whole pumpkins should be kept in a cool, dry place. Once cut, they should be wrapped tightly, refrigerated, and used within five days. Puree or cube any that's left over, and freeze it for later use.