How to Make Pumpkin Pie with Real Pumpkins
The secret to the best fresh pumpkin pie has been hiding in plain sight all along: It's whipping up a pumpkin pie with real pumpkin. But you need to know a few crucial details about how to make pumpkin pie with real pumpkins to ace the process—and to transform that sturdy squash into a silky pie filling. We'll walk you through the entire process of making pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkins, including the best pumpkin to use, how to score a similar-to-canned texture (so you can follow any pumpkin pie recipe), and more pro tips from our Test Kitchen.
Amelia Simmons, author of American Cookery published in 1796, is credited with a pumpkin pudding recipe in a crust that would become the basis of today's beloved pumpkin pie. While canned pumpkin is the simplest option for piemaking, it’s actually not too complicated to master how to make a pumpkin pie using real pumpkin. Perhaps you’re itching to learn about making pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin because you can’t find canned pumpkin (never forget the shortage of 2020!). Or maybe you prefer the flavor and thick velvety texture of fresh pumpkin pie. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a surplus of winter squash in your garden. For all of these reasons and more, we tapped our Test Kitchen baking experts to dish up all of their best tricks for the best pumpkin pie with fresh pumpkins.
Step 1: Choose a Pie Pumpkin for Fresh Pumpkin Pie
For jack-o'-lantern carving, the bigger the pumpkin, the better. This isn't the case for the vegetables you’ll want to use in fresh pumpkin pie. Avoid ornamental varieties and large pumpkins, which are bred for size and looks not flavor. Instead, choose those labeled as “pie pumpkins.” They are small, dense, and rich in color, and they have sweet, full-flavor flesh. Or consider these pumpkin varieties:
- Baby Bear: Smaller (about 2 pounds) yet similar in shape to a carving pumpkin, these have a soft orange flesh.
- Cinderella: Imagine these large pumpkins, often 10 to 25 pounds, as a classic pumpkin that’s been morphed into a flatter and wider version of itself. They are less stringy than typical pumpkins and showcase a naturally sweet flesh.
- Jarrahdale: Often used for decorations due to their unique blue-green matte hue, these 6- to 10-pound pumpkins have a fruity, golden flesh and next to no strings.
- Dickinson: Similar in skin color and flavor to butternut squash, this is the variety that Libby’s and many other store-bought brands use for their canned pumpkin.
Supermarket cans of pumpkin often list “squash” on the ingredient list and may actually feature a mix of pumpkin and other sweet winter squash. Kabocha, butternut, acorn, buttercup, honeynut, and delicata squash all work wonderfully if you can’t find one of the pumpkin species above.
If the wall of your pumpkin is thick or the pumpkin is small in size, you might need two to fill your fresh pumpkin pie. (We always make a big batch of homemade pumpkin puree to use in pumpkin cakes, pumpkin mac and cheese casseroles, pumpkin soups, pumpkin cookies, and more.) Here’s a rough guide to the yield you’ll receive based on your particular pumpkin:
- 2½-pound pumpkin = 1¾ cups puree (equivalent to one 15-ounce can)
- 3½-pound pumpkin = 2½ cups puree
- 5-pound pumpkin = 2¾ cups puree
- 6-pound pumpkin = 2¾ cups puree
Prime winter squash season runs from September through November, although some stores and markets offer them year-round. Look for pumpkins that are blemish-free and heavy for their size. Store them in a cool place up to 1 month.
Step 2: Make Pumpkin Puree for Fresh Pumpkin Pie
Transform any classic pumpkin pie recipe into a fresh pumpkin pie by swapping in an equal amount of Pumpkin Puree for the canned pumpkin called for in the recipe. Before we dive any further into the process for making pumpkin pie recipes with real pumpkin, we must mention that the flavor of the finished pie might differ ever so slightly from the rendition using canned pumpkin.
Test Kitchen Tip: In side-by-side taste tests of fresh pumpkin pie vs. canned pumpkin pie, we found that fresh pumpkin pie can be a hint less sweet and slightly more vegetal (or squashlike, which certainly makes sense) in a pleasant way. We recommend baking your first batch following the traditional recipe and sampling a slice. The next time, adjust with more sugar or spices as desired.
To make the puree, first cut up the pumpkin and bake it. Here's how:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Using a sturdy serrated knife, cut the pumpkin into 5x5-inch pieces. With a large metal spoon, remove the seeds and strings. Discard the seeds or reserve them to make Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.
- Line a large baking pan with foil. Arrange the pumpkin pieces in a single layer, skin side up, in the pan. Cover with foil.
- Bake the pumpkin, covered, for 1 hour or until the pulp is tender when poked with a fork. Let the pieces cool until easy to handle.
- Use a metal spoon to scoop the pumpkin pulp from the rind. Place the pulp in a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth; this step is essential to achieve the correct consistency.
Test Kitchen Tip: If your puree looks more watery than the canned type after blending, transfer it to a drinking glass. Invert the glass; it should stay molded but slightly slump at the bottom. If it’s too “loose,” try straining the puree through cheesecloth ($3, Target) to allow the excess liquid to drip off into a bowl for about an hour. Or transfer to a clean, thin kitchen towel and squeeze out the extra liquid.
Feel free to roast and puree the pumpkin ahead. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Or place the puree in freezer-safe jars or ziplock freezer bags, then freeze up to 6 months. Thaw the puree in the refrigerator overnight to use.
Step 3: Whisk Together the Filling for the Fresh Pumpkin Pie
Now that you have the pumpkin puree done, the filling is a 5-minute job. In a large bowl combine the pumpkin puree, sugar, spices, and salt called for in your recipe. Lightly beat the eggs with a whisk and whisk them into the pumpkin mixture just until combined. Stir in the milk just until combined.
For using your fresh pumpkin pie filling, try one of our 27 best pumpkin pie recipes.
Step 4: Make the CrustGet the Crust Recipe
Most people consider the homemade pastry to be the hardest part of making a fresh pumpkin pie (or any pie, for that matter). While it takes a little practice, tender, flaky pastry isn't difficult to achieve. Follow these pointers:
- Following your pastry recipe, use a pastry blender to cut the fat (shortening, lard, and/or butter) into the flour mixture just until the pieces are pea-size. This creates pockets of fat in the pastry, which make it flaky.
- To moisten the flour, sprinkle ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over part of the flour mixture. Toss gently with a fork and push the flour mixture to one side of the bowl. Repeat, using just enough water to evenly moisten the flour mixture.
- Gather up the moist flour mixture with your hands to form a ball, kneading gently until it holds together.
- Flour the rolling surface to keep the dough from sticking. Flatten the pastry ball with your hands.
- With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry dough from the center to the edges with light, even strokes to form a 12-inch circle. Sprinkle the surface with additional flour if needed.
- To transfer the dough circle, wrap it around the rolling pin. Holding the rolling pin over a pie plate, unroll the pastry, being careful not to stretch it as you ease it into the plate.
- Using kitchen scissors, trim the excess dough to ½ inch beyond the edge of the pie plate. Fold the extra dough under so the dough is even with the rim of the plate.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you have a thin spot around your fresh pumpkin piecrust, use some of the dough scraps to press in so the edge is as even as possible.
For a fluted edge, place a fork or a finger against the inside edge of the pastry. Using the thumb and index finger of the other hand, press the pastry around the fork or finger. Continue around the circumference of the pie. (And we have several more decorative edge ideas for your crust here!)
Step 5: Bake the Fresh Pumpkin Pie
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Transfer the prepared fresh pumpkin pie filling to the pastry crust. To prevent overbrowning, cover the edge of the pie with foil: Tear off a 12-inch square of foil and fold it into quarters. Cut a 7-inch circle out of the center of the foil. Unfold the foil and place it on the pie, loosely molding the foil over the edges.
- Bake the pie for 30 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake 25 to 30 minutes more or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill within 2 hours for up to 2 days.