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The Dark Secret of Canned Pumpkin: What kind is it really?

The Dickinson Pumpkin.
Elijah Dickinson moved from Kentucky to Illinois in 1835, carrying with him the seeds of Kentucky Field Pumpkin or as it later became known, the Dickinson Pumpkin. 

This large tan pumpkin actually belongs to the squash species Cucurbita moschata, whose most famous member is the butternut squash. These squashes usually have a uniform, smooth, tan rind when ripe; similar kinds are cheese pumpkins, Canada crookneck, long neck pumpkin, and others.

Butternut Squash
Photo: Johnny's Selected Seeds
Most gardeners grow butternut squash, which you can find in grocery stores and farmers markets.

And here's the secret...

The Dickinson pumpkin or squash really is the source of most canned pumpkin we eat today. 

Why the Dickinson squash? As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, those who are determined to make pumpkin pie from scratch soon learn that "field pumpkins taste disgusting: stringy, watery, and bland."

Libby’s® brand canned pumpkin is made out of what the company calls, “Select Dickinson Pumpkins” for their canned pumpkin. 

Did you know...90 percent of the pumpkins in the U.S. are grown within an 80-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois? Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant is just 10 minutes away in Morton, Illinois.

A heavy-weight squash contender

 According to Libby’s® Pumpkin Pie blog, “These pumpkins are larger than your normal pie pumpkins. Pie Pumpkins weigh about 5 pounds. The Dickinson’s weigh 10 to 14 pounds, are oblong and tanned in color. They have a much thicker orange flesh and less open space in the center.” 

In the fall, Libby’s® harvests and prepares each Dickinson pumpkin in 24 hours. It processes a half million of pumpkins a day into cans.

Smaller manufacturers of canned pumpkin use a mix of pumpkin and squash varieties or a specific variety for their product.
Photo: Daniel Acker, Bloomberg News

Can I grow it or buy it?

The Dickinson squash is rarely seen for sale, as its size (see photo at top) is a medium to large pumpkin, which can be more of a challenge for the home gardener and cook. Since its not the bright orange we expect from pumpkins, it often goes unsold at the market. But Dickinson squash yields a lot of edible flesh.

What's it like to cook with it?

These pumpkins are fairly watery. You can almost roast them on a rack with a pan under them to catch the water that is released as it cooks. 

Due to the moistness, this squash (like butternut) is ideal for baking as a roasted vegetable or in recipes that call for canned pumpkin such as these delicious Pumpkin Cinnamon Spirals from Better Baking by Genevieve Ko.  
Photo: Better Baking by Genevieve Ko

Pumpkin Cinnamon Spirals

Hands-on time: 25 minutes, Total time: 45 minutes
  • 1 15-oz can pure pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 4-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line a 15x10x1-inch pan with parchment paper.
  2. Reserve 2 Tbsp. of the pumpkin in a small bowl. Stir 2 Tbsp. of the sugar and 1 tsp. of the cinnamon in another small bowl.
  3. Whisk both flours, baking powder, salt and remaining 1/4 c. sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon in a large bowl. Add butter. Toss to coat, then cut it in with a pastry cutter or your fingertips until dough comes together in large clumps. Gather dough together in the bowl. Gently knead to bring it into a ball. 
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. With a lightly-floured rolling pin, roll into an 8x16-inch rectangle. Spread reserved pumpkin over dough. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over pumpkin. Sprinkle with raisins, if desired. 
  5. Starting from a long side, roll dough into a log. Use a serrated knife to saw into sixteen 1-inch-thick slices. Place cut side up on prepared pan, spacing 1-inch apart. 
  6. Bake 20-22 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Cool on parchment paper on a wire rack.
  7. For glaze: Stir together yogurt and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle over spirals. Let stand until set. 
Makes 16 servings.

Each serving: 176 cal., 6 g. fat, 16 mg chol, 181 mg. sodium, 27 g. carb, 2 g. fiber, 3 g. pro.

Author: Mary H. Meyer Extension Horticulturist and Professor 

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