OK, so the pumpkin spice thing started, as usual, in August, about five seconds after the kids went back to school. And it was as crazy as ever, with every food on Earth suddenly available in pumpkin spice form. A car repair place in my town put up a sign that read “Pumpkin Spice Oil Change $19.99.” The perennial backlash was sluggish with resignation (it might have been the 90-degree heat), while the other 75 percent of the world rushed out to get their pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks before the school buses finished their first routes. But that’s all over now. It’s officially acceptable to indulge in pumpkin season. The mums are blooming in earnest, the nights have cooled, the tree leaves are turning colors and lovers of Halloween are putting the finishing touches on their ghoulish outdoor displays. Go nuts with the scarecrows, stretch the fake cobwebs across the dining room, pile up the gourds, and dig into some hearty autumn fare. This dish more than qualifies as festive. And creative. The hardest part is digging the guts out of the pie pumpkins, but you need the practice anyway, for jack-o’-lantern season, which is right around the corner. Once that part is done, it’s just a matter of cooking the filling, stuffing the pumpkins and baking the lot. And waiting for them to bake. That part is hard, too. Sausage & Rice Stuffed Pumpkins 3 small pie pumpkins (about 2 pounds each) ½ pound bulk sweet Italian sausage 1 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped 2 medium onions, chopped 1 medium green pepper, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 4 cups cooked long-grain rice 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided 2 large eggs, lightly beaten ¼ cup minced fresh parsley 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon dried thyme Preheat oven to 450 F. Cut a 3-inch circle around each pumpkin stem. Remove tops and set aside. Remove strings and seeds from pumpkins; discard seeds or save for toasting. In a large skillet, cook sausage, vegetables and garlic over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes or until sausage is no longer pink, breaking up sausage into crumbles; drain. Remove from heat; stir in rice, ¾ cup cheese, eggs, parsley, salt and thyme. Place pumpkins in a baking pan to catch any moisture; fill with rice mixture. Replace pumpkin tops. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven setting to 350 F. Bake 25 to 35 minutes longer or until pumpkin is tender when pierced with a knife and a thermometer inserted in filling reads 160 F. Sprinkle remaining cheese over filling. To serve, remove rice mixture. Scoop out pumpkin and serve with rice. — www.tasteofhome.com — Jennie Geisler can be reached on Twitter: @ETNGeisler.