“You’ll have to do without the bourbon-cherry-apple pie,” I told Patrick. “This year, I’m bringing a ready-made pumpkin pie.”
A few days later, after making the store rounds, Patrick and I sat down with friend Bernice for some pie nibbling.
The Vons pumpkin pie ($2.99 for 18 ounces) looked sickly. “Flavorless, white, gummy crust,” said Bernice.
“Light on the pumpkin flavor,” added Pat.
Vons’ other pie offering won the marketing award: ESP (“Extra Special Pie”) pumpkin pie ($4.99 for 22 ounces). “We know you want this pie,” stated the pie box. The marketing text caught Bernice’s eye.
“59 million pies are eaten each Thanksgiving” she read, “and the average American eats six slices of pumpkin pie each year.
“‘In early times,” she continued, “the pumpkin was used as crust for pies, not for filling.” “Pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables.” “Pumpkins are 90% water.”
“Can we move past the pumpkin trivia and back to the eating?” asked Patrick.
I passed around a slice of ESP pie. “A little more spice, more dense filling...it’s passable, but I’m not sure it’s ‘extra special,’” laughed Pat.
The Sprouts pumpkin pie did not fare as well ($2.99 for 24 ounces). “So processed, the texture is slippery in the mouth, like baby food,” said Bernice. “And the crust is a little bitter.”
“Kudos for the crust on this one — it looks like a sunflower,” said Bernice about the Trader Joe’s pumpkin pie ($4.99 for 24 ounces). “I can pick out individual spices in the filling: cinnamon, ginger.”
“It’s too sweet and too spiced for my taste,” said Patrick.
Albertsons wasn’t selling a pumpkin pie when I popped in, but they did have a Harvest sweet-potato pie ($4.99 for 24 ounces). “The thickest of all the pie fillings and a flaky crust,” observed Bernice. “This would be an okay substitute. Your guests would know it’s not a pumpkin pie, but it would fill the spicy, squashy dessert needs.”
“The filling tastes candied to me,” said Patrick. “You would have to serve this with an unsweetened cream.”
The Ralphs 8-inch pumpkin pie ($4.99 for 22 ounces) ranked at the bottom of our ten-pie testing. “The crust feels like rubber and tastes like cardboard,” said Bernice. “And the filling has so much cinnamon I can feel it up in my sinuses.”
“The texture is like gelatinous chicken fat,” laughed Patrick, shaking a clump of pie filling.
Ralphs’ other pie: the Jessie Lord pumpkin pie ($5.99 for 24 ounces) was a no-sugar-added Splenda dessert. “It’s got that melt-away sugar-free sweetness, no sugary granule texture. It makes me think squash baby food,” said Bernice.
“Gloppy texture, and the flavors are not integrated,” added Patrick. “First you’re hit with sweetness, followed by overpowering pumpkin.”
Another non-keeper: the Fabe’s Bakery gluten-free pumpkin pie from Whole Foods ($7.69 for 10 ounces). “The crust tastes like old french fries,” grimaced Bernice. “And the filling is too runny.”
“Tastes like ginger snaps, not pumpkin pie,” agreed Patrick.
Whole Foods’ other pumpkin offering was the winner of the evening ($9.99, 20-ounce 9-inch). “A substantial lip on this crust...and I can actually taste the butter in it,” said Bernice.
“Something about cloves immediately makes you think of the holidays,” smiled Patrick. “The clove in this puts it into its own class.”
The whopping 58-ounce pumpkin pie from Costco was the other winner ($5.99). “The crust looks homemade,” said Patrick. “A dark, scalloped crust with a rich caramel hint in the filling. I could eat this without slathering it in cream. And after enough wine and tryptophan, I’d have no idea it wasn’t homemade.”