Dakota Gardener: The secret to great pumpkin pie

Tom Kalb
North Dakota State University Extension
Tom Kalb, NDSU Extension horticulturist

Pumpkin mania is all around us. We can enjoy pumpkin coffee, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin cheesecake and more.  

And the star of the season is pumpkin pie, an all-time classic!

Gardeners often ask me what is the best pumpkin to grow for making pumpkin pie.

My answer may surprise you.

The best pumpkin for making pumpkin pie is not a pumpkin at all. The best pumpkin pies are made of squash!

You don’t believe me? Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree, nicknamed “America’s Favorite Pumpkin,” has no pumpkin whatsoever.

The best pumpkin pies are made of squash.

This filling is produced by a variety of Cucurbita moschata, which is better known as butternut squash!

Thousands of acres of Libby’s Select Dickinson butternut squash are grown near their processing plant in Illinois. The Food and Drug Administration allows “golden-fleshed, sweet squash” to be labeled as pumpkin.

Dickinson butternut squash ripens too late in North Dakota, but we have earlier varieties that grow well here. These include Early Butternut, Waltham and Butterbaby.

Winter squash is a North Dakota treasure. It was grown by the Hidatsa, Mandan and other local tribes for centuries in their “Three Sisters” gardens. Our native tribes sliced the squash, skewered it through willow sticks and dried it in the sun. Squash was vital for their survival during winter.

It feels good to grow something that fed North Dakotans for centuries. The heirloom Lakota squash is a beautiful, native variety that makes a delicious pie.

North Dakota is famous for other squashes as well. Buttercup squash was developed by the North Dakota Agricultural College in 1931. This squash is very flavorful and has become one of the most popular squash types throughout the world.  

Burgess is an easy-to-grow buttercup variety and Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert buttercup squash is famous for its flavor. Bonbon is a wonderful variety that is well suited for small gardens.

You may wonder if you can use your Halloween jack-o’-lantern for making pie. Don’t bother.

The flesh of a typical Halloween pumpkin is thin, stringy in texture and watery. In comparison, the fleshes of butternut and buttercup squashes are thick, smooth in texture and rich in sugars.

Our North Dakota Home Garden Variety Trials program evaluates many of these and other squash varieties every year. Send me an email at tom.kalb@ndsu.edu, and I will send you our 2023 seed catalog.

Best wishes for a wonderful autumn. Enjoy your pumpkin—or should I say squash—pie!