Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie: The traditional Thanksgiving dessert recipe, step-by-step with pictures

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie Thanksgiving dessert recipe

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An extra touch of spice: Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie

Why use evaporated milk in pumpkin pie?

Have you ever wondered… why use evaporated milk in pumpkin pie instead of cream — or even just regular milk?

Evaporated milk, as is used in this recipe for Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie, is a shelf-stable product with over 50% of the water removed, which intensifies its flavor and natural sweetness (no sugar is added — that would be sweetened condensed milk).

It’s thicker than milk — in fact, it can be whipped like heavy cream — but it is significantly lower in fat, which makes it a useful lower-calorie alternative to heavy whipping cream (admittedly, a concern that probably isn’t top of your mind at this precise moment).

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie The traditional Thanksgiving dessert (1984)

Since Libby’s fabled pumpkin pie recipe is THE recipe that has defined for nearly 100 years what homemade pumpkin pie is even supposed to be (including its influence on Carnation’s also iconic recipe, as featured below) that, my friends, is why most of us will be putting evaporated milk on our holiday shopping lists this fall.

Note: Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie recipe is roughly the same as Libby’s — more sugar and evaporated milk, plus the addition of nutmeg and allspice to the spice mix. – BB

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Classic pumpkin pie recipes: The ultimate collection

Libby's pumpkin pie This famous pumpkin pie recipe is the greatest of all time

Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie: The traditional pumpkin pie is still the best (1959)

Pumpkin pie remains a seasonal dessert, even though few of us make it with fresh pumpkin any more, and the canned product is available the year around. Somehow we associate it with harvest time, November and Thanksgiving. Somehow it tastes best in this season!

No cook has ever been able to improve upon the taste of pumpkin pie as made in the traditional way. Many have tried.

I’ve tasted pumpkin pie with orange or lemon or wine in it, with mincemeat or pecans, with pineapple or applesauce, and somehow my reaction is this: Why don’t we let a perfect pie just be itself?

Even the chiffon and frozen versions aren’t as good as good old pumpkin custard pie, the kind great-grandma, grandma, and ma made, the Thanksgiving dessert that is a favorite and best of all!

The kinds and proportions of spices may vary a little, and one cook may prefer evaporated milk to milk or cream for her pie.

Another may make it with brown sugar instead of white, and the amount of pumpkin is variable, too.

The trimmings — whipped cream or candied ginger or cheese — don’t matter much. But let pumpkin pie be pumpkin pie, I say! – Mary Meade in the Chicago Tribune (1959)

ALSO SEE: 8 ways to make pumpkin spice mix at home


Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie recipe ingredients

Libby’s influence on Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie — and pumpkin pie culture, in general

When Libby’s first launched their canned pumpkin puree product in the late 1920s, the recipe they published on the label called for using regular milk.

In the 50s, however, Libby’s adjusted the recipe to swap in evaporated milk instead of regular milk. When the evaporated version is reconstituted with water, it becomes the equivalent of the regular milk we drink — for baking, at least — which makes it useful as a shelf-stable pantry staple: you don’t ever need to run out of milk!

But Libby’s was on a quest to further decrease the water content in their recipe, which is why it calls for evaporated milk measured straight out of the can, undiluted.

This recipe adjustment reduced both the moisture in the pumpkin pie filling and the baking time, as well as enhanced the dairy flavor — overall improving the dessert’s texture and taste.

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie recipe ingredients - Click Americana

Combining the ingredients for the custard filling

If you’d like a darker and more richly-flavored pie, consider using brown sugar instead of granulated, or adding a little molasses to the mix. Find out more about that here: Pumpkin pie with molasses: 5 old-fashioned & delicious recipes

Combining the ingredients for Carnation's pumpkin pie recipe - Click Americana


The mixture adding the milk to the pumpkin, eggs, sugar and spices

You can easily use a simple whisk for this mixture — as we did here — but you can also use a hand mixer or stand mixer. Be sure not to set any power mixer on high, or else you’ll end up decorating your kitchen with droplets of sweet spiced pumpkin.

The pumpkin pie mixture before baking - Click Americana


Filling the unbaked pie shell with spiced pumpkin mixture

A helpful trick to avoid spilling the uncooked filling as you carry the pie to the oven: Don’t fill the crust to the very brim before you put it in the oven.

You can also place the pie on a cookie sheet to catch any spills. (Cover the sheet with foil to make lifting burned pumpkin splotches simpler.)

Filling the unbaked pie shell with spiced pumpkin mixture - Click Americana


The classic recipe for Carnation pumpkin pie

The classic Carnation pumpkin pie - Click Americana


The baked pie, cooled

The baked Carnation pumpkin pie, cooled - Click Americana


Have a slice of delicious pumpkin pie made with a classic recipe

Have a slice of delicious pumpkin pie made with a classic recipe - Click Americana


Pumpkin pie slice with whipped cream

Pumpkin pie slice with whipped cream - Click Americana


Taking a bite of fresh homemade pumpkin pie

Taking a bite of fresh homemade pumpkin pie, made with the classic Carnation recipe - Click Americana

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie Thanksgiving dessert recipe

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie recipe

Yield: One 9" pie (8 servings)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1-2/3 cups (large can) undiluted Carnation evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 9-inch single-crust unbaked pie shell

Instructions

  1. Mix filling ingredients until smooth. 
  2. Pour the filling into unbaked pie shell. 
  3. Bake in hot oven (425 F) for 15 minutes.
  4. Lower the oven temperature to moderate (350 F), and continue baking for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until the custard is firm and a knife inserted 2 inches from the edge coms out clean.
  5. Allow the pie to cool and set for at least 1 hour. Serve warm or cold.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 258Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 60mgSodium: 234mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 3gSugar: 34gProtein: 7g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie recipe (1959)

The sure way to a cream-smooth pumpkin pie… Never grainy… Always smooth

The secret is today’s Carnation… the milk you can use like cream with 1/2 the fat calories

See the smooth-as-cream texture! Ordinary milk can’t do it — it takes today’s Carnation, the milk that looks, cooks and even whips like cream. Yet it has half the calories of cream!

An exclusive method of evaporation removes the water slowly and gives Carnation the consistency of cream — with far less fat calories! Try it — for a failure-proof pumpkin pie as smooth as if you’d made it with cream itself.

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie: The traditional Thanksgiving dessert recipe (1959)


Carnation’s famous pumpkin pie retro recipe card (1950s)

Carnation's famous pumpkin pie recipe card (1950s)

Step-by-step Carnation pumpkin pie recipe from Click Americana

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. I have been making the Carnation Evaporated Pumpkin Pie recipe for 55+ years. Always use Carnation brand. I can’t explain why but you will notice your pie won’t have as much of a smooth and silky texture if you use other brands. I even made homemade baby formula with Carnation when my first child was born; she thrived! I hope Carnation Evaporated milk continues to be produced. Thank you!

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