Pumpkin Pie

Libby’s Just Changed Their Pumpkin Pie Recipe for the First Time in 69 Years

Here’s what’s different about it.

November 27, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Picture a classic Thanksgiving meal, all set for dinner with candles aglow. Center stage, a glistening roast turkey. A bowl of jiggly cranberry sauce crowds the extra space next to a pitcher of gravy, a deep dish of pillowy mashed potatoes, and a platter of stuffing, crowned with crispy cubes of butter-soaked bread. Competing for your attention are the scents of onion and sage, and the comforting, yeasty fragrance of just-baked dinner rolls.

But you’re not really here for any of that. You—like many people on Thanksgiving—are waiting for the main event: the pumpkin pie.

One of the most fiercely beloved traditions of a Thanksgiving meal, pumpkin pie has become a symbol of the holiday: a dessert recipe most bakers trot out solely for this one day and largely ignore the rest of the year. Unlike apple or pecan pie—both common Thanksgiving desserts that remain popular throughout the year—pumpkin pie is inextricably intertwined with Thanksgiving.

Of course, plenty of cooks will outsource dessert, delegating the task to guests or a bakery. But if there’s one day of the year when non-bakers will attempt a from-scratch recipe, it’s Thanksgiving. And if you’re baking a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, there’s a good chance you’re using the recipe from the back of the Libby’s pumpkin puree can.

A nostalgic can for many on Thanksgiving. Photo by Libby's

The recipe dates back to the 1950s, when it first appeared on the can’s label. That single recipe has made its way into a vast number of kitchens: Libby’s (owned by Nestlé) makes up nearly 90 percent of the market for canned pumpkin in the United States. And nearly all of that is sold within a four-month window between October and March. This is, in short, firmly a Thanksgiving-centric product.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I happened to notice the New Fasioned Libby's Pumpkin Pie Recipe after I made my pie (using the Old Fasioned recipe on the can). I didn't realize that recipe was brand new, but I did notice what I thought was an abundance of liquids (by comparison to the old recipe) in it. I also noticed that the amount of cloves was doubled. I LOVE cloves. In fact, after I read the 'new' recipe, I had wished that I had doubled the amount of cloves in my recipe. Based on your article, I will try the 'new' recipe the next time I make a pumpkin pie. It will be interesting to compare the two pies. Thank you.”
— LizF
Comment

Perhaps you can remember making the Libby’s recipe yourself, or you can picture a family member or friend consulting the back of the can. I’d wager that the handwritten recipe in many family cookbooks is actually the Libby’s one—just like on Friends, when Phoebe’s grandmother’s “famous” chocolate chip cookies turned out to be from the back of the Tollhouse bag.

Not that there’s anything wrong with following recipes like these. They work. The Libby’s recipe, in particular, yields a stunning pie with a silken, creamy pumpkin custard that jiggles just enough but rarely ever cracks on top. It isn’t too thick or rich, nor is it too soft or thin. It’s certainly sweet, but not so sweet that you don’t taste the pumpkin and the spice.

And about that spice: It’s subtle. A 5-year-old with a picky palate won’t be thrown off by the level of spices, which include ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. This is a comforting pie, designed to please everyone at the Thanksgiving table. The bakers in Nestlé’s test kitchen developed this recipe to sell canned pumpkin, and it does just that.

So given the popularity of the decades-old recipe, you’d imagine the company would stick with proven success.

But this year, for the first time since the product debuted, the recipe has changed! If you buy a can of Libby’s pumpkin puree and flip to the back of the label, you’ll find a recipe for “New-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie.”

So what’s new?

The old recipe uses granulated sugar and evaporated milk for sweetness, whereas the new recipe skips the sugar altogether and uses a combination of sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, but dials back the amount of evaporated milk to compensate for the increased liquid content from the condensed milk. The new pie is baked slightly longer (10 additional minutes), an important adjustment that ensures the filling is still creamy and set, despite more liquid.

Everything else stays exactly the same, with one notable exception: The new recipe has double the amount of cloves (1/2 teaspoon compared to 1/4 teaspoon), which is a surprisingly noticeable and welcome change. You can’t pinpoint the clove flavor exactly, but in a side-by-side comparison, my taste testers found that the spices sung more in the new version. They stand out more against the backdrop of pumpkin and sugar.

Devoted fans of the original recipe may stay loyal to it, steadfastly refusing to alter any Thanksgiving traditions. But if you’re willing to stray ever so slightly from the classic recipe, try the “new-fashioned” version. It’s as familiar and as comforting as the original, but—I’ll go right out and say it—even better.

Do you make the pumpkin pie from the back of the Libby's can? Let us know in the comments below.
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  • LizF
    LizF
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    SueAnne
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.

132 Comments

LizF November 28, 2020
All of these comments are so helpful. Thank you. Margaret B. says she likes both so that gives me more impetus to try both! Lauren B., thank you for the detailed explanations of all--very informative. And, Jessica P., that was a cute story about you, your dad, your mom and pumpkin pie!!! It made me smile! Thank you for that.
 
Jessica P. November 28, 2020
I've always used the libby cans recipe. Although i would follow it completely except for one thing. Instead of evap milk i use sweetened condensed and my dad loves it so much more! He actually makes sure I, Not my mom, but I make it cause that's how he likes it.
 
Lauren B. November 26, 2020
This year I grew my own Jack be Little pumpkins on a trellis and used them to make an Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie. I made the apple butter from “Pie Apples” that I bought at Don Baker Farm, in Hudson, NY. (They were $6 for a half bushel and were amazing!!). The recipe for the pumpkin pie is from Paula Deen. The crust was from The Pleasures of Your Food Processor by Norene Gillitz, and I used the Pareve Egg Pastry recipe which never fails 😋. I let the dough sit in the fridge for a day, not an hour and I add a couple of Tablespoons of sugar.
 
Margaret B. November 26, 2020
I made both and I think they are both good .I like extra spice's.
 
LizF November 26, 2020
I made the Old Fashioned Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe this year--I make it every year. I happened to notice the New Fasioned Libby's Pumpkin Pie Recipe after I made my pie (using the Old Fasioned recipe on the can). I didn't realize that recipe was brand new, but I did notice what I thought was an
abundance of liquids (by comparison to the old recipe) in it. I also noticed that the amount of cloves was doubled. I LOVE cloves. In fact, after I read the 'new' recipe, I had wished that I had doubled the amount of cloves in my recipe. Based on your article, I will try the 'new' recipe the next time I make a pumpkin pie. It will be interesting to compare the two pies. Thank you.
 
SueAnne November 22, 2020
Be careful! Just found a 29 oz can of pumpkin with only the 15 oz recipe!!!!
 
Tara C. November 28, 2020
No wonder my pies took longer to cook and were not sweet enough! I've never had an problem before, so disappointed with the filling and the tasteless Marie C crust! Pillsbury or even store brand frozen crust is better.
 
Margaret B. November 16, 2020
I like the new recipe and so do my friends
 
Momalalala November 11, 2020
The Original Pumpkin Pie Recipe was always too bland. I’ve always upped my spice in pumpkin pie. More cloves & ginger!!! About time Libby’s got with the program!!!
 
Matt M. November 10, 2020
I love some PP but Libby's (old) recipe is boring. The custard turns out somewhat lumpy like cottage cheese in your mouth. Further, it didn't have enough spice to be interesting. So I set out to develop a better recipe using Libby's as a base. First thing was to double the spices, then add ginger and cardamom. Much improved.
Then I found Chef John's recipe on allrecipes. It makes the perfect custard (1 egg and 3 yolks) but I didn't like his Chinese themed spices and it was too sweet. So I took what was useful (custard base) and used my spice blend. For the last improvement, use a graham cracker crust for better texture and flavor. Now I'm as happy as a pig in muck!
 
Matt M. November 10, 2020
Forgot to add: a pinch of cayenne (not enough to make it hot; just peaks other flavors) and ground cloves.
 
Neenie November 10, 2020
I use the old recipe, but I’ve made some additions to my pumpkin pie, that my family thinks makes it even better. I put a cream cheese layer on the bottom, and add a streusel topping. I don’t dare go to Thanksgiving dinner without it.
 
Amy C. November 10, 2020
Let's not be fooled by this ingredient change. Nestle owns a brand of Sweetened Condensed Milk and changed the recipe purposefully as a very smart move on their part to increase sales.
 
Glendi November 11, 2020
You are right, a can of sweetened condensed milk is a lot more expensive than the sugar as well.
I like to make the original recipe. Somehow it is the one I crave to assuage my nostalgia. Though I do make it without the crust most often as long as I am just pleasing me
 
eartoday November 9, 2020
I have been making this pie since I was 10 years old - I love it and was surprised to see the new recipe on the can this year. The only variation I make is that I chop pecans and pank them into the bottom of the crust - I love the texture that gives the custard. It's wonderful. I'll give the new recipe a try, but probably not on Thanksgiving!
 
trvlnsandy November 8, 2020
This 'change' was new last year, btw. 'Old' recipe is available either on the can or their web site (which is hard to navigate) and also can be googled.
 
Monicavd November 8, 2020
Note the date on the article- it was from last year. Food52 just reissued it😀
 
trvlnsandy November 8, 2020
I know - I commented on it last year. I guess I wasn't specific in my comment.
 
LaineyBakes November 8, 2020
Nope, I haven’t used Libby’s in years since I started making fresh pumpkin purée. I didn’t have the recipe, from the can, so kind of followed a recipe from Martha Stewart, using all cream instead of the evaporated. Plus, I always increased the spices, and add cardamom, ginger and nutmeg. My oldest sister makes the pumpkin pie every year for Thanksgiving and has been a religious Libby’s recipe follower. I’m sure she saved the recipe...
 
Barbara K. November 7, 2020
I add 2 more eggs and 3/4 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup more of 2% milk . Which makes a pumpkin custard.
 
Susan R. November 7, 2020
I use a recipe from a very old cookbook that the recipe calls for condensed milk and no sugar, it does call for water for the added liquid that I never add, I bet the milk addition would make it richer... I usually double my spices anyway..I would definitely try the new recipe on the can!
 
Diane B. November 7, 2020
I have always doubled the spices. The Libby recipe is too bland. I will probably give the new recipe a try.
 
Gail M. November 6, 2020
I will certainly try the new recipe and I have added double the cloves for years with great success. I have saved the old label to use if I don't like the new changes. The old recipe has always gotten raves from family and friends.
 
Steven W. November 6, 2020
Nah. I kinda only buy OnePie brand and I have used their recipe for nearly 50 years.
 
Michele W. November 6, 2020
Oh no - not changing to this ‘new’ recipe. I have a label saved as have always felt either the recipe would go away or be changed. However- I’ve always added nutmeg, along with the more than called for of the other spices to my pie. I like the extra zing it gives. So I guess I already did change it years ago 😃