Pumpkin Pie Filling: Buy It vs. Make It
I remember my first pumpkin pie. I was at the supermarket near my newly minted first apartment, reveling in the amazing feeling of filling my very own actual shopping cart with whatever I thought necessary (generally this was Tab, smoked Gouda, and a French bread, which would last me most of a week) when I noticed cans of pumpkin pie filling stacked in a pyramid, next to the graham cracker crusts.
“Oh my god,” I breathed. “I’m going … to make … a pie.”
The next day, I headed to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving carrying my very own pie that I made with my own two hands, a can opener, and an oven that groaned with surprise and let off an alarming odor when I preheated it. Pie. I made pie!
I’ve come a long way, baby. But even now, it’s hard to resist the festive orange cans of pumpkin puree and pumpkin-pie filling that stack up at this time of year. I’m almost never without it in my larder, even when there was an alleged pumpkin famine last year.
So should I be making it myself while the pumpkins are fresh? Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t.
In order for pumpkin pie filling to even be considered for this column, I had to eliminate 90 percent of the laborious steps recommended across the internet. I went with the easiest, lowest-impact method of pureeing pumpkin that I could squeeze out of the many, many recipes I found. Cutting a raw pumpkin? Scraping, then roasting? Using both the food processor and the blender? Running it through a sieve? Not doing any of that. Not … doing … it.
Instead, I found a slow-cooker recipe and, in the comments from other cooks, the confirmation I sought: Many people just pop the whole pumpkin in the oven or crockpot and let the chips fall where they may. I was on my way! I put two organic sugar-pie pumpkins in a roasting pan with about a half-inch of water at the bottom, baked them at 350 degrees for about 1¼ hours, let them cool and then put them in the fridge. The next morning, it was a breeze to scoop out the seeds, peel off the skin and pop batches into my blender (I performed all three of these steps with a two-year-old literally dangling off my arm).
So will I be making and freezing puree for my own purposes? Let’s break it down.
As long as I kept it simple (see above), this was much less effort than I thought it was going to be. It was actually pretty painless. I have a great horror of things that are stringy — carving pumpkins usually stresses me out because I cannot get enough of the strings cleaned off the flesh, and worry that a web of them will follow me to the ends of my days, along with corn silk and acrylic sweaters. But baking the pumpkin made it easier to scoop and string, and the strings that remained really did disappear in the blender. I quickly had three cups of cheerful orange goo and made my own substitutions (soy cream rather than condensed milk) to create my special take on pumpkin pie filling. It froze and thawed without incident.
Pumpkin is never bad. Pumpkin pie puree and filling from a can tastes amazing, because it is pumpkin. Made fresh and then frozen, it is tastier, though: brighter, with a heartier texture. But is it so undeniably superior that you can never go back to canned once you’ve had it? No, not really. But it’s very good!
Pumpkin pie filling and puree cost the same — 10 cents an ounce when on sale, 21 when not. Meanwhile, the fresh pumpkins by me were $1.29 per pound, and a 3.5 pound pumpkin yielded about 3 cups of puree. That makes it $.18 an ounce, which is more. So you’ve got to get cheaper pumpkins or really love the fresh stuff to make this worth your while! (I’ll note, for the record, that a whole frozen pie is $.14 per ounce. Jeesh!)
Buy it. Unless you’re super-duper into making it, which is great. But it doesn’t save you anything.
What’s the verdict? Check out all our Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!