What are Pie Pumpkins?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Pie pumpkins are any one of several varieties of pumpkin grown for eating rather than decorative purposes. Generally, they are smaller and more dense than decorative pumpkins. Recipes calling for pumpkin may use canned or fresh varieties, but should never have decorative pumpkins used as a substitute.

Two pie pumpkins.
Two pie pumpkins.

In North America, decorative pumpkins are carved into jack-o'-lanterns in honor of Halloween. Those bred for this purpose are usually meant to be very large, mostly hollow, and flat-bottomed for stability. The side effect of the large growth is that the flesh is usually watery and bland. Although the seeds inside are excellent for toasting, the flesh should not be eaten, as it is usually tasteless. Common varieties of decorative pumpkin include Howdon biggy and Connecticut field.

Cloves are often used to season pumpkin pie.
Cloves are often used to season pumpkin pie.

Pie pumpkins are small and dense and usually have a medium or dark orange color. They usually appear in markets and grocery stores in September, and continue to be sold through November. The most common variety is the deliciously flavorful sugar pie, but other eating pumpkins may include winter luxury, deep red, and golden cushaw.

Pie pumpkins are used in making pumpkin pie.
Pie pumpkins are used in making pumpkin pie.

The most obvious use for these pumpkins is to bake the autumn favorite pumpkin pie. To make the pie, cooks can cut the squash in half and remove all seeds and stringy "guts," then bake it until completely soft, usually about one and a half hours. In a blender, she should combine the cooked flesh with cream, eggs, brown sugar, and spices. Typically used spices include cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. The blended mixture is then poured into a single pie crust and baked at 350°F (176.6°C) for 40-50 minutes.

Pumpkins go well with the flavor of maple syrup.
Pumpkins go well with the flavor of maple syrup.

This type of pumpkin can be used in any recipe calling for the squash. Indian cuisine includes recipes for spicy pumpkin curry, which makes a delicious autumn meal. It can also be added to pancake batter before cooking, then topping with maple syrup and whipped cream. A variety of recipes are available for pumpkin soup, which can be hearty and filling on cool evenings.

For a moist and delicious pumpkin bread, bakers can cook pumpkin as in the pie recipe above and puree it or use canned pumpkin. The puree can be combined with flour, melted oil or butter, sugar, eggs, nuts and spices. Different recipes call for different rising ingredients, but many chefs prefer a mixture of baking soda and baking powder. To make this filling bread a delicious dessert, half a package of semi-sweet chocolate chips may be added. It can be baked in a 325°F (162.7°C) oven until a knife poked into the bread comes out clean.

Pie pumpkins are an excellent source of beta carotene, calcium and potassium. For vegetarians, it can make an excellent replacement for meat in winter stews and soups. Many people consider pumpkin pie to be the essence of fall, reminding them of crisp falling leaves, cool evenings and the approaching holidays. Any pumpkin recipe can be a source of comfort and warmth, but cooks be sure to use the correct type to achieve a richly flavored result.

Pie pumpkins can be used to make pumpkin soup.
Pie pumpkins can be used to make pumpkin soup.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


It all sounds like a gimmick to get people to spend more on something.


I use pie pumpkins to make dog treats. Pumpkin is good for a dog with an upset stomach or diarrhea, and my dogs gobble these treats up like they are meat!

The only other ingredients are a small amount of milk, flour, and two eggs, so they are completely safe for my dogs to eat. I cut them with a small bone-shaped cookie cutter to make them just the right size. I bake them until they are rock hard like dog biscuits.

I believe that if I used a different kind of pumpkin, the dogs might not like the treats as much. Pie pumpkins have the most flavor, and I think the dogs pick up on that.


@orangey03 – I used to grow pumpkins, and I always found that a mixture of soap and water was helpful at keeping the bugs away. I cut up and dissolved a bar of soap into some water inside a big sprayer, and I saturated the plants with it daily.

You have to be sure to get the undersides of the leaves, because bugs tend to hide out there. The soapy water will not make your pumpkin taste weird, because it is only touching the outside of the pumpkin.

Another thing you can try is planting nasturtiums in your pumpkin garden. They are supposed to repel squash bugs, and if you plant a few in between each pumpkin plant, you could really do some prevention. They produce colorful flowers all summer, so they will liven up your pumpkin garden, too.


Pumpkin and pecan pie are two things I look forward to each fall. I sometimes find myself thinking about them during the summer months, but it is nearly impossible to find a pie pumpkin during that time of year.

I do like growing my own pumpkins to use in recipes. However, I am always met with one challenge, and that is those pesky squash bugs. They like to eat through the vine and leaves, and they can destroy a pumpkin plant.

I hate to use pesticides on something that I'm going to be consuming. Is there anything I can do to prevent these bugs from feasting on what will eventually be part of my Thanksgiving feast?


I think that using canned pumpkin instead of a pie pumpkin is like using pumpkin pie spice instead of getting all the spices separately and then mixing them. It may still taste good, but it will be less intense and you will miss out on a more flavorful experience.

@anon50749-- There is no health risk. I think what the article means is that if you do eat a decorative pumpkin, you will be disappointed with the flavor. Pie pumpkins are more suitable for cooking.

Does anyone have a recipe for pumpkin soup? All I know is that I'm supposed to use pie pumpkins for it.


When I first came to the US, I didn't know the difference between pie pumpkins and decorative pumpkins.

We bought a decorative pumpkin for Halloween, carved it to place outside and then used the flesh to make pumpkin dessert. The dessert was not good, now I understand why.

And all this while, I thought that pumpkin pie was made from those pumpkins.


@umbra21 - That's one of the reasons I like trying to get heirloom pumpkin and squash seeds. There are a lot of tasty varieties that are just generally good all-arounders, because the article is right. If you breed a pumpkin to be big and flat, so it will make a good jack 'o lantern, it's not going to be as tasty as one bred to be a pie pumpkin.

But, if you are growing them yourself, unless you specifically want them for a particular purpose, like making homemade pumpkin pie.

You're more likely to want one pumpkin type that can do a lot of different things without too much compromise.

Pumpkins are big vines and they take up a lot of space, particularly if you want enough to last through a year. So, you don't really want to be fussing around with several different varieties if one will do everything.


@anon51057 - Oh I love halwa and I've never tried it with pumpkin. I've always had it with either banana or carrots. I'm definitely going to have to give it a go with pumpkin.

I actually thought there were varieties for every use. That pie pumpkins were mostly for pies, carving pumpkins were mostly for carving, and that there were pumpkins for seed roasting and for grilling as well. I mean, you can probably use pie pumpkin seeds for roasting, of course and use any kind of pumpkin for any kind of act, just that some were better than others.


I agree with 50749. My first assumption was health risk.


I made some pretty good dishes with carving pumpkins, so I can only imagine how good pie pumpkins taste! I found baking the pieces of pumpkin with the skins on helped add flavor and color, because yes, the jack 'o' lantern type can be pretty plain.


Indian cuisine recognises the pumpkin as a readily available and versatile vegetable all year round though the appearance and the taste of the flesh varies seasonally. Only someone finicky would decide against having a pumpkin preparation given the wealth of nutrients it carries. By the way it lends itself beautifully to a sweet dish called " Halwa."


"...flesh should not be eaten, as it is usually tasteless."

I wouldn't use the words "shouldn't" or "should never."

These imply a danger rather than a preference, and some old varieties were bred for use both ways.

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