Okay, so maybe your gut reaction is to think that this is entirely self-explanatory, but if you’ve ever found yourself in a baking needs aisle staring down a row of seemingly identical cans, or if you’ve once or twice turned up a pumpkin pie or pumpkin enchilada that tasted just…wrong, then perhaps this is a topic worth delving into just a wee bit.
So let’s begin, as is apropos, at the beginning, and consider the source of the potential confusion. Whatever your go-to pumpkin pie recipe, it’s helpful to understand it from the inside out and all that it comprises. It is not, after all, only pumpkin baked into a crust. (If this is already news to you, please read on.) With pumpkin pie, what you are essentially building is a custard base whose most structurally essential components don’t necessarily include the pumpkin. Eggs, sugar, and some form of dairy—evaporated or sweetened condensed milk, or heavy cream—must be present for the pie to set. Pumpkin and its attendant spices add mostly flavor and texture to the mix.
Pumpkin puree is simply that. A cooked and mashed version of the vegetable and the vegetable alone. You can certainly go DIY here, but this will absolutely not involve throwing your beloved jack-o-lantern into the vitamix at the end of its tenure. (But you should most certainly toast those seeds you extracted at the beginning of the process.) Sugar pumpkins, a smaller, denser, naturally sweeter version, are required if you are completely committed to a pie that is as from-scratch as you can manage. Most commercial pumpkin puree, in fact, is more likely to be another form of winter squash than anything that would actually carry a name including pumpkin. But let’s not dwell on that.
In order to transform plain pumpkin puree into its highest expression as a Thanksgiving dessert buffet centerpiece, you will need to incorporate all the other custard/pie ingredients as it contains nothing that will help it turn into a sweet, spiced, and set outcome. However, it is then also plain pumpkin puree that you will want to utilize if you are intrepidly dabbling in savory pumpkin recipes—soup, enchiladas, and gnocchi are all excellent vehicles for pumpkin. Some of pumpkin’s best sidekicks, besides cinnamon and whipped cream, are sage, cheese, and curry spices.
Pumpkin pie filling, on the other hand, shortcuts a little of what you need to add to achieve pie. Typically, the filling is pre-sweetened, and pre-spiced, so that all you are adding are the milk and egg components. Because of the sugar and spice, pie filling can be potentially be found in recipes for other sweet pumpkin preparations such as breads and cakes, but you may find it a bit off-putting if it found its way into pasta dish.
Now that you keenly know the difference, time to stock up and throw a pumpkin-themed feast!
Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.
Related Video: How to Make an Easy Pumpkin Pie
Header images courtesy of Shutterstock.