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:
“Still, the basic recipe from Libby's can is there, and the custard is so perfect, that I indeed make the custard without the crust several times a year. I buy about 6 extra cans of pumpkin during the holiday season when it is inexpensive, and use it up over the course of the coming year--including Christmas-- for pumpkin custard. Sooo good. And open to a little more variation on the spices. But still basically the same. ”
— judy
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.
Food52’s Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker
View Now
Food52’s Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker

Did someone say Thanksgiving? Our Automagic Menu Maker is here to help!

View Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sharon Sprouse Bramhall
    Sharon Sprouse Bramhall
  • dstubitsch
    dstubitsch
  • Mary p
    Mary p
  • Diamond
    Diamond
  • Sayde
    Sayde
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.

106 Comments

Sharon S. January 1, 2020
BEWARE OF THE "FAMOUS" RECIPE ON THE CAN! I'm old. I was not ready to experiment with the NEW recipe - so I decided to stick with the original, tried & true Libby Pumpkin Pie recipe on the can. I kept going over & over it, thinking I was reading it wrong. The ORIGINAL recipe only listed ONE can of evaporated milk instead of TWO! Then I thought, "Well maybe they decreased the size of can, just as they've done with bags of sugar" or "Maybe I AM getting forgetful". Bottom line, I only used ONE can as instructed, and my pies were ruined! We ate a couple pieces and threw it & the other pie out. Disappointing. Libby/Nestle, how could you!
 
dstubitsch December 28, 2019
I bought 2 cans of Libbys pie filling for Christmas, one large for two pies and one smaller for a single. I made up the recipe using the large can but there wasn't enough filling for 2 pies and was thicker than I usually get. I brought out the second can, the smaller one and found, to my surprise, that the recipes were the same on both cans instead of doubled on the large one for two pies. I used both cans for only two pies but they still tasted good of course.
 
Mary P. December 27, 2019
My Momma experimented in 1960's she used condensed milk always added extra spices and cut sugar it was still a perfect pie. Change is good.
 
Diamond December 4, 2019
I made the original Nversion of the pumpkin pie not good.
Well good people I made the pumkin pie with the sweetened condensed milk OMG it's so delicious also added cinnamon. Ginger, salt 2 eggs, nutmeg whisk all the ingredients and put it in the oven on 425 for 15 min then turned the oven down to 350 cooked for 45 min
Pie was all that and some Bone appetit 🙌
 
Sayde December 4, 2019
I have been using the Libby's recipe since I started making pumpkin pie. However, I enriched the flavor by adding a 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg to the spices and changed the liquid to half & half instead of evaporated milk. I stopped using evaporated milk because it contains carrageenan a questionable additive. It is always a hit.
 
Smaug December 4, 2019
So far as I know there is no evidence of any problems with carageenans- they are vegan, organic, and have been used in foods for many hundreds of years. Extensive testing has allowed them in sensitive applications such as baby formula and they are allowed under organic certification rules.
 
Sayde December 4, 2019
Some people are sensitive to it. It is added to dairy products as a thickener, but that's just a way for manufacturers to save money and increase profits by stretching the product. It shouldn't be necessary to add a thickener. See link below for information.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-carrageenan-controversy/
 
Smaug December 4, 2019
Some people are sensitive to nearly anything; for example, winter squashes, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, milk, eggs, wheat flour...
 
Smaug December 4, 2019
Among things some people are known to be sensitive to: winter squashes, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, eggs, milk, wheat flour... It's a wonder anyone survives a pumpkin pie.
 
Sayde December 4, 2019
If an unnecessary additive is present in a product, why choose that when you can prepare the recipe with a natural product?
 
Smaug December 4, 2019
I'm not much on evaporated or condensed milk myself. Or on pumpkin pie, for that matter, but I do make one occasionally, and the recipe I use doesn't use it. I'm not sure that it's not a "natural" product however- carageenans are extracted from common seaweeds, and milk is milk. The claims of harm from carageenans are extremely equivocal and seem to be based largely on a University of Chicago study, the results of which other researchers have been unable to duplicate. I don't think there's any reason people shouldn't try this recipe if they want to.
 
Jamile December 4, 2019
Since I came to the US (1976) I have been making the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can. It has always been a hit. I’m willing to try the new recipe because I love sweetened condensed milk
 
Debbie M. December 3, 2019
I have always added extra spices, including nutmeg. Seems like the original could be made less sweet, compared to the new improved recipe.
 
Susan M. December 3, 2019
I increase the spices, but not the salt, in the original recipe by 50%. Family loves it.
 
susan C. December 3, 2019
Of course they changed the recipe to sell more of their milk products. That's the world we live in. I have switched to an organic brand of pumpkin puree and substitute half and half for the canned milk products. I have also upped the spices. The half and half makes for a slightly lighter custard, but very much the same otherwise. Pumpkin (and apple) pie remains the favorite in our family.
 
Bevi December 3, 2019
Just to add to the mix of comments - we made pumpkin pies from the One Pie canned pumpkin brand recipe. They were delicious and very straightforward. The Libbys brand was sold out at our nearest store, so we took the risk and were very happy.
 
skj December 2, 2019
I have just figured out how to replicate the old recipe without milk! I just I will have to be content adjusting the spices.
 
Becky T. December 1, 2019
I followed the new recipe on the back, and it was the best tasting pumpkin pie I have ever eaten (Not that I have baked but that I have eaten which includes mine and all the other bakers whose pumpkin pie I have tried), so high praise, indeed.
 
HalfPint December 2, 2019
@Becky T. would it be enough to convert a pumpkin pie hater, like me ;)

The sweetened condensed milk sounds like a game changer.
 
Joan W. December 1, 2019
First time using condensed can of milk instead of evaporated milk, etc. Came out just right...delicious...used pumpkin pie spice mix and a bit of salt, 3 eggs...mix and put in shell...425 for 15 min. and 35 min. at 350..I had already roasted and pureed my own sugar pumpkin. Used about 2 cups of it. Will surely do this from now on...been using old recipe for about 65 years...now, on to the new one.
 
Donna B. December 1, 2019
Yes I do use and make libbys.
 
Janie W. November 30, 2019
If I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating and so on, I will use Libby's Pumpkin Pie MIX! I admit it. I'm not as young as I used to be, and things are getting a little harder to do these days. I follow the directions for this pie, on the back of the can, and my family loves it and doesn't know the difference. Are they also changing this recipe? 🥧
 
Deborah November 29, 2019
I have not made Libby's pumpkin pie but i will try it at Christmas. My pumpkin pie has graced the holiday table of my family for 44 yrs. I think they only let me in because of the pie. I will let you know how it measures up and if I am ostracized or not!
 
Deboah November 28, 2019
I am making and have made your pies forever when i followed the recipe i noticed i only got two pies, usually get 4, so I re read the recipe as i thought for sure i used two cans of evap.milk in the past but it says 1 very thick, so i googled this receipt and low and behold you did change it to 1 can evap milk, cooks longer 10 minutes ???! My pies have been in the over over an hour and still hasn't become a pie, i am angry as i had no idea, and now i won't have pies to take to our Thanksgiving event it doesn't work AND I FOLLOWED THE DIRECTIONS to the T as I always do, why !!!
 
Mary P. November 27, 2019
large can of pumpkin has 29 ounces 2 small cans equal 30 ozs whic h recipe calls for can i make two pies out of 29oz can
 
dgrant589 November 21, 2019
I would like to throw in a little note to say that canned pumpkin is not specifically pumpkin squash. The truth is so called canned pumpkin is actually all types orange colored squash processed together.. the reason why it's called Pumpkin on the can is a marketing ploy to get you to buy it when the holidays are in season.
 
trvlnsandy November 21, 2019
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/canned-pumpkin-isnt-actually-pumpkin/
 
Sally J. November 17, 2019
I use the recipe on the old Del Monte can. Alas, I can no longer find Del Monte pumpkin, which I still think is a better product than Libby’s. The recipe makes a smooth but spicy pie....family fav for years (since my gramma recommended it in the 50’s when I baked my first one when I was 6)!