The amount of individual dishes that go into a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be staggering. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, vegetables, whatever sides people bring, and usually a few other stray dishes can make hosting Thanksgiving quite a chore, and that’s all before dessert. Instead of making a pumpkin pie from scratch, there are thankfully several brands on the market, both refrigerated and frozen, that make getting dessert on the table a welcome relief. We’ve taste-tested and ranked five leading brands of pre-made, packaged pumpkin pie, and one emerged as a clear winner.
The pumpkin is one of the symbols of the harvest, and it in fact appeared on the first Thanksgiving table back in 1621, albeit not in pie form because they had little sugar and no way to make a pie crust. Pumpkins have been turned into pies since the Tudor times, however, and have been eaten as a traditional part of Thanksgiving dinner for as long as the holiday has been around.
In order to make a traditional pumpkin pie, canned pumpkin is usually mixed with eggs, condensed milk, sugar, and spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. It’s these spices that give it that "holiday" flavor, and people go absolutely nuts for the spice combo this time of year, which turns up in everything from lattes to ice cream to pancakes to beer. But it all goes back to the noble pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie also happens to be one of those desserts that you either love or hate. But if you love it, the entire Thanksgiving meal can be just a lead-in to it.
For our taste test, we visited our local supermarkets and purchased frozen, unbaked pies from Sara Lee, Marie Callender’s, and Mrs. Smith’s. We also went to Whole Foods and found a precooked gluten-free version, and tracked down a "defrost and serve" one at Trader Joe’s. We prepared them all according to the directions, set up a blind tasting, and asked our tasting panel to judge them each on pumpkin and spice flavor and balance, consistency, texture and flavor of the crust, and overall enjoyment factor. At the end of the day, one was crowned champion of the packaged pumpkin pies, and will feel right at home on any Thanksgiving table. You might even be able to get away with saying that you made it from scratch.