Food

Fresh vs. canned: Which one should you use to make the best pumpkin pie?

With all that real pumpkin showing up in Starbucks' and Panera's lattes this fall, I started to feel like I needed to step up my game this pumpkin-baking season. This was the year I would finally make a pumpkin pie with fresh, not canned, pumpkin.

Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

But a big question loomed: If I go to all this trouble, is everyone just going to prefer the canned pumpkin version anyway, especially since it's what they're used to enjoying? That possibility was certainly annoying, but I was determined to find out.

I started with the real stuff. Roasting the pumpkin wasn't a big deal. Yes, it's more work than cranking open a can, but there are many methods that don't take too much effort and this is the technique I went with:

Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

1. Find a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin, which taste better than those giant jack-o'-lanterns.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Cut pumpkins in half vertically (use a sharp knife for safety). Scoop out seeds, spray with oil, and lay cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment.

4. Roast for 1 hour. Let cool and scoop out the pumpkin flesh—you may find it even falls out when you squeeze the skin over a bowl. Purée in blender.

Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

The resulting fresh purée was a light shade of orange, a sharp contrast to the bright and saturated orange of the canned version in a side-by-side comparison.

To keep things even, I used the same recipe—Mark Bittman's Pumpkin Pie, which calls for your choice of fresh or canned pumpkin (although we all know Mark is in the fresh camp). I also used the same frozen, store-bought crusts for both pies.

Visually, the fresh-squash pumpkin pie was slightly paler in color, but the taste-testers went into the test blind, with no hints about the difference between the pies.

The verdict? Six out of the eight testers preferred...the pie made with the canned pumpkin. "I suspected this one was made with canned, and I really didn't want it to be my favorite, but it was," one taster admitted.

For the majority who preferred the canned pie, it came down to texture. According to the tasters, the canned filling was "much smoother" with "no trace of stringiness or chunkiness." Surprisingly, almost everyone found it to be a draw when it came to the taste. The fresh-made pumpkin was maybe ever-so-slightly "blander" or "less intensely pumpkin-y."

So there you have it: For all the work involved and the minimal difference in taste, I'm just going with canned pumpkin from now on, guilt-free.

What do you think? Is fresh pumpkin worth the extra work? Tell us in the comments below.

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