Canned pumpkin makes flavorful pie

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When a chill hits the air, pumpkin displays replace summer melons in the supermarket's produce section. And with them come questions from readers about cooking with pumpkins. How does canned pumpkin stack up to fresh? What's the difference between pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling?

"Unless you're dead-set on experimenting, use the canned variety - one of the few foods better canned than fresh," Doris Townsend writes in The Cook's Companion.

Why? Because supermarket pumpkins tend to be stringy. Even the smaller "pie" pumpkins recommended as sweeter and more tender may not match canned pumpkin puree for intense flavor.

Annapolis author Ken Haedrich also gives a high grade to canned pumpkin in his cookbook, Pie, and includes a half-dozen recipes for pumpkin.

"Most of the time, I reach for canned pumpkin when I want to make a pumpkin pie," he writes. "It would take one sophisticated palate to tell the difference between canned and fresh pumpkin puree."

But don't let the thought of tackling thick-skinned pumpkins intimidate you. Baking halved pumpkins softens the shell and eases peeling. Use sweet, or pie, pumpkins that weigh less than 3 pounds. Haedrich offers the following advice for those who get what he describes as an "urge to bake with real pumpkin and make a genuine pumpkin pie from scratch."

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place seeded, halved pumpkins flesh-side-down in a roasting pan filled with 1/2 cup water.

Bake until fork-tender, about 50 minutes to an hour. Cool completely on a rack before pulling the skin away. Use the flesh in recipes that call for cooked pumpkin, such as pies, casseroles, soups, breads and cakes.

Donna Pierce writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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