Canned Pumpkin Shortage and Pumpkin Substitutes

Photo credit: Flickr/minjungkim
Photo credit: Flickr/minjungkim

America is experiencing a pretty severe pumpkin shortage this year.  After several years of unusually heavy rainfall, Libby’s canned pumpkin (the biggest brand in the country) has a stockpile consisting of only six cans.  This year’s holiday plans may need some adjusting!

The pumpkin in pumpkin pie comes from a particular variety of pumpkin.  These aren’t your big orange carving pumpkins; these are small, sweet pumpkins known as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins.” 

 1. Butternut Squash

If you were planning to make pumpkin pie from scratch, then most experts advise that you use a butternut squash instead.  Butternut squash is virtually the same thing as a pie pumpkin.  Although you may find that it is not quite as sweet, and you may want to add a little extra sugar accordingly.

2. Sweet Potatoes

Another excellent substitute for pumpkin is sweet potatoes.  Few people could distinguish the difference between a sweet potato pie and a pumpkin pie.  Sweet potatoes tend to be less sweet as well, and could probably use more sugar in pie. 

To prepare sweet potatoes for making a pie, or for other pumpkin substitutions (in pumpkin bread, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup, and so forth) simply cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and boil them for half an hour or so.  Once the chunks are fork tender, mash them up with a potato masher or a fork.  If you need a particularly smooth puree (as for a soup) you can also run them through the blender.

3. Carrot, Swede, and Yogurt

The Wikibooks project recommends that for canned pumpkin you substitute a mixture of carrot and swede (a turnip or rutabaga), blended with yogurt.  This is probably functionally similar to pumpkin, particularly in color thanks to the carrot.  I’m not sure if the flavor or baking profile will be correct. 

No matter which pumpkin substitute you choose, be sure to try it out ahead of time!  If your mixture needs tweaking, it’s best to find that out the week before Thanksgiving, and not after Thanksgiving dinner.

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