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Canned pumpkin is one of those Thanksgiving shortcuts that our food editors have long endorsed, but how does it actually stack up against the fresh kind? Food director Sarah Carey recently hosted a side-by-side tasting with canned pumpkin and several different roasted winter squashes, including the kabocha, kuri, honeynut, sugar pumpkin, and cheese pumpkin pictured above, in the test kitchen to find out. The hands-down winner was the torpedo-shaped kuri squash, followed by sugar pumpkin and honeynut squash. “Roasted kuri has a wonderful silky texture, a nice orange color, and that classic sweet pumpkin flavor,” says deputy editor Greg Lofts.
Meanwhile, senior editor Lauryn Tyrell extolled the virtues of using butternut squash as the base of your pie filling. She likes teaming the roasted purée with brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and evaporated milk. Though the filling can't upstage the striking fishtail-braided rim and decorative cutouts atop her “pumpkin” pie, it's nutty and delicious.
Editor at large Shira Bocar was also a fan of the kabocha squash. “It produces a very different, almost grassy flavor, but I think that makes a beautiful pie,” she says. “The texture is also a little more firm, which I like.” She steams or roasts the squash for the tartlets in her Thanksgiving menu.
It was unanimous that the canned pumpkin had the worst flavor, which surprised many of the editors. Shira was Team Canned Pumpkin for both the convenience and the nostalgia until she tasted it on its own. “As a standalone product, it was totally unacceptable,” she says. “I’m always going to cook my own squash from now on.” Some of the others didn’t feel as strongly. Once canned pumpkin is mixed with eggs, sugar, and the rest of the filling ingredients, "it's what you want for Thanksgiving," says Greg. Sarah pointed out that the flavor in pumpkin pie really comes from the spices anyway.
Recipe tester Riley Wofford says it’s all about your Thanksgiving priorities: “You’re already doing enough during the holidays. Roasting or steaming your own pumpkin is great in an ideal world, but it’s not where I’m allocating my time.” It later came out that the Woffords are more of a pecan-pie household, so the pumpkin debate isn't an issue for her. But will she go classic or add dates like our latest, greatest pecan pie recipe??!
Watch Kitchen Conundrums expert Thomas Joseph make sugar pumpkin purée for his pie: