Pumpkins are cute on your porch, but trying to turn them into pie can create an ugly mess in your kitchen.

That's why pumpkin in a can is so popular, especially around Thanksgiving time. It's gotten even more popular this year, and there has even been a bit of pumpkin hoarding. That's because last year, rains in the Midwest wiped out much of the pumpkin harvest, leaving cooks shopping for the holidays scrambling.

Pumpkin pie is the classic, whether straight-up or as pumpkin chiffon pie and pumpkin custard pie. Other favorite uses include pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin curry soup.

The best eating of an actual pumpkin might be the seeds. Scooped out, cleaned off, tossed with oil and salt and toasted in the oven till browned and crunchy, they're a hit with adventurous kids.

Family food: Pumpkins are cousins to zucchini, both members of the cucurbita family. A few batches of zucchini bread aside, it's the rotund, orange cousin that seems to get all the love. A huge zucchini gets snuck into the compost pile or left on an unsuspecting neighbor's doorstep, while overgrown pumpkins garner ribbons and applause.

These autumn muffins, based on a recipe from "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book," use pumpkin for their golden color and a touch of squash flavor. Traditional pumpkin pie spices add to their aroma, they're studded with crunchy pecans, and chocoholics can add chips as they please.

>Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

3 1/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2/3 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups canned pumpkin

4 eggs, slightly beaten

2 2/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup milk

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 12 muffin tins, or line with muffin papers.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. In a large bowl, combine shortening, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, 1 cup of pecans and chocolate chips (if using).

Add dry ingredients to wet and stir just until the batter is blended. The flour should be incorporated so there are no lumps, but small bits of shortening may remain, to disappear in baking.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of pecans. Place in oven.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or so, until toothpick or tester inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from pans.