False Pumpkins: A Thanksgiving Deception

Sugar Pumpkins for sale at a farm stand.
Sugar pumpkins

I, like most Americans, grew up eating pumpkin pie made from canned pumpkin. Every Thanksgiving my mother would make such a pumpkin pie, adventurously changing the recipe to use either sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk. I lived in ignorant bliss until I owned a home and had a garden of my own. I did the logical thing: I planted a sugar pumpkin, the small thick-walled orange pumpkin reminiscent of the jack-o-lantern pumpkin. When it was time to harvest, I did the logical thing: I made pumpkin pies.

The pie was the best pumpkin pie I’d ever had. It tasted more “pumpkiny” than I remembered. Since that fateful day I’ve never had a canned pumpkin pie again.

You see, the canned Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin is not what you’d expect. It’s actually proprietary hybrid of the Dickinson squash (species: Curcurbita moschata), closer to a butternut squash than a pumpkin (species: Curcurbita pepo). The squash is thicker, has a lower water content, and is sweeter than a pumpkin. It also tastes different.

We’ve been deceived. While legally speaking they can all be called pumpkins, it is quite possible that you’ve never even had a real pumpkin pie. My friend Juli hated pumpkin pie. I told her that she’d never had real pumpkin pie and so I made her taste one of my pies. It was the first pumpkin pie that she liked. So during pumpkin season, get a pumpkin, prepare it, and make some real pies.

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