What Makes a Perfect Pumpkin Pie?

By Deb Cummings

I know, I know — how do you get to be a pumpkin pie judge? Let me tell you, it takes years of unwavering devotion to dessert.

Pie plays an important role in all our lives. When we’re not enjoying a movie-pie moment — remember Bugsy Malone and the pie-eating contest scene from Stand by Me? — we’re evangelizing about it . . . say, at Thanksgiving.

Precisely why a small, but vital team of five pie-lovers at UCalgary Alumni decided to chow through four Calgary-made pumpkin pies (two of those bakeries are owned by alumni) to toast a pie that is said to have been first served at the Pilgrims’ second Thanksgiving in 1623. When it comes to food, dear reader, we are always happy to do your homework for you!

On the judging block (our humble office kitchen table) were not-so-humble pumpkin pies from alumni-owned Sidewalk Citizen, Pie Junkie, Costco and alumni-owned Bridgeland Market. One slice into the exercise, we all suspended our forks mid-air to marvel over the drastically different colours of pumpkin pies — from burnt jiggly orange (Costco) to a frothy goldy colour (Sidewalk Citizen). And the textures varied just as much — from airy fluff (Sidewalk Citizen) to dense and spicy (Pie Junkie and Bridgeland). So did the crusts — all-butter flaky (Pie Junkie) and tender (Bridgeland), to stuff that tasted hard-pressed and store-bought (Costco).

Here’s what else our very unscientific survey revealed:

Sidewalk Citizen

Sidewalk Citizen

Price: $32

Overall: Winner

Recommended for:

Presentation & Taste

“If you want to impress someone, or have been invited to a swanky potluck.”

Pie Junkie

Pie Junkie

Price: $26.25

Overall: 2nd place

Recommended for:

Presentation

“If you want to impress someone, or have been invited to a swanky potluck.”

Bridgeland Market

Bridgeland Market

Price: $16.95

Overall: 3rd place 

Recommended for:

Value & Tradition

“If you're looking for that traditional tasting pie but don't have time to bake your own.”

Costco

Costco

Price: $5.99

Overall: 4th place

Recommended for:

Value

“If you want to feed a herd or have spent all your money on the turkey.”

In the category of presentation and creativity, it was a flat-out tie between Pie Junkie and Sidewalk Citizen. Pie Junkie was framed with dainty little balls of whipping cream dusted with cinnamon. Sidewalk Citizen was slathered with a thick layer of whipping cream, dotted with crystallized ginger and crunchy pumpkin seeds. All judges — Nicola Wheldrake; Julie Gow, BCC’09; Junho Kim; Thomas Magee and yours truly — unanimously decided that, if you want to wow someone with a showstopper, either of these would fit the bill.

The category of crust was a tricky one because two of our judges weren’t big on crusts, so the pretty leaves that framed the edges of Bridgeland’s entry were “too much” for them. That said, Bridgeland and Pie Junkie were almost neck-and-neck in the flaky department, with Pie Junkie sneaking by with one extra point for buttery texture.

Worth the most points was the overall taste of the filling and that winner was Sidewalk Citizen, followed by Bridgeland, Pie Junkie and Costco.

So . . . after tallying up the score sheets, the overall winning pumpkin pie was from Sidewalk Citizen, followed by Pie Junkie, Bridgeland and then Costco. That said, when our judges discovered the prices, Bridgeland Market’s pie ($16.95) won for overall value and tradition. Our judges gave marks to budget-priced Costco ($5.99), “if you want to feed a herd or have spent all your money on the turkey”; and the more wallet-thinning Sidewalk Citizen ($32) and Pie Junkie ($26.25), “if you want to impress someone, or have been invited to a swanky potluck.”

If, on the other hand, you’d rather bake a pie from scratch, click below for my mum’s tried-and-true pumpkin pie recipe. Or, if you’re not a pie fan, we offer two other pumpkin-based dessert recipes courtesy Michael Sclafani, associate vice-president of Alumni Engagement & Partnerships.

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