Emerging in the late 1920's, canned pumpkin quickly rose to prominence as a convenient alternative to preparing whole, fresh pumpkins. Canned pumpkins eliminated the need for baking, straining, or manipulating the pumpkin in the name of texture and consistency.
History of a Pumpkin Can
The first mechanically-compressed canned pumpkin was introduced by Libby's, an Illinois-based company. Their recipe included the Dickinson pumpkin, which is a small New England pumpkin variety with a thick skin and sweet flesh. Prized for its taste and smooth texture, the Dickinson also produces more meat than the standard jack-o'-lantern variety, whose taste pales in comparison and instead is more popular as a Halloween pumpkin.
Once Libby's canned pumpkin started to achieve relative success, other brands and offshoots began to appear on the market. Over time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sought to regulate canned pumpkin, judging its overall quality through careful analysis of its color, consistency, finish, and defects. Nowadays, nearly 90% of U.S. pumpkins grown for processing are harvested within an 80-mile (130-km) radius of Morton, Illinois, where Libby's is headquartered.
How to Can Pumpkin at Home
To can a pumpkin at home, first make sure to select a small pumpkin variety that is edible and easy to manage before choosing a method of extracting the flesh, such as oven roasting, microwaving, or steaming. If using the whole pumpkin, it may be necessary to poke deep slits before transferring it to a heat-appropriate baking dish. The roasting process takes about an hour, while steaming and microwaving can be done in around 30 minutes. Carefully remove the pumpkin and let cool. The skin will gradually harden, making it possible to scoop out any remaining flesh or seeds. Then use a food processor or blender to create a smooth, even pumpkin puree for canning.
Drain the excess water with a cheesecloth and carefully pack the puree into sterilized mason jars or other airtight containers. However, the use of an electric canner is also recommended, if available. Finally, store the finished products in the fridge or in a cool, dark space.
A homemade pumpkin puree can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to three months.
Best Canned Pumpkin
The best pumpkin cans are USDA certified Grade A. Virtually free from dirt, sand, and grit, they possess a bright, even color that is closely related to that of the fruit from which they were derived. They also have a firm consistency and a smooth, finely-grained texture with well-incorporated pumpkin pieces.
While premade pumpkin pie mix already contains sugars and spices, pure canned pumpkin will yield the most consistent results.
Canned pumpkins' use is not limited to sweet dishes: they are versatile enough to be used in a range of savory sides and entrees.
Where to Buy Canned Pumpkin
Most grocery stores carry at least one brand of canned pumpkin year round. They are typically derived from Dickinson pumpkins and can also be made from any other combination of pie, sugar, or sweet pumpkins. These variations are less than seven pounds (3 kg) and produce fruits with sweet filling and a smooth texture that makes them ideal for consumption.
14-oz. (397 g) cans of pumpkin pie mix and 100% pure pumpkin cans are both available for under two dollars each. When dealing with canned pumpkin, always remember to check the expiration date and nutrition label before purchasing, as packaging is not always forthcoming.
Since its emergence in the early 20th century, canned pumpkin has taken the world by storm. A faster, cleaner, and more practical way to enjoy the popular American staple, canned pumpkin may very well be the best thing since sliced bread.
- For the love of pumpkins: A cookbook, pp. xiii-xiv
- New England Pie: History Under a Crust, p. 119
- U.S. Government Publishing Office, The code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America, p. 697 – 699
- University of Illinois, Extension Office, Pumpkins and More