Apparently the rest of the blogosphere also has pies on the mind because I have noticed an uptick in interest about choosing the perfect pie pumpkin. However, most people focus on using sugar pumpkins rather than jack-o-lantern pumpkins so they never discuss the best pie pumpkin of all, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin.
I grew up on Long Island so it should be no surprise that I am partial to this heirloom variety, but no matter where you are from, this is perfect for your pies. The cheese pumpkin gets its name from its similarity in appearance to a wheel of cheese, not because it tastes like cheese, and it actually isn't a pumpkin at all. The cheese pumpkin is a winter squash of the species Cucurbita moschata, which also includes butternut squash. It may seem strange to make pumpkin pie without an honest-to-goodness pumpkin, but if you use pumpkin from a can, you might already be doing just that. Pumpkin and squash from the species Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima can all be labeled as 100% pumpkin under USDA rules.
Although the cheese pumpkin has strong ties to Long Island, you don't have to live there to get one. When my family moved to Wisconsin we were surprised to find cheese pumpkins for sale in our grocery store and now we are able to get ours from a local farmer. A trip to your farmers market should give you some leads on where to pick up a cheese pumpkin in your area. (And if you are on Long Island, you can pick up yours from the people at the Pumpkin Patch Farmstand in Yaphank who first introduced my family to cheese pumpkins.)
Of course, no matter how great your pumpkin is, you are going to need a great pumpkin pie recipe. My family uses the No-Fault Pumpkin Pie recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook and have always had great results. The best part of this recipe is that it makes more pumpkin pie filling than is needed to fill a 9-inch pie crust so there is always enough left over to make a small bowl of pumpkin pudding. (We use the recipe from the 1977 edition which is shown to the left. Click the image to view larger. This recipe has been changed in the newer versions of the cookbook but the only adjustments we have made to the original are to use scant teaspoons of cinnamon and to use a non-whole wheat pie crust.) If you already have a favorite family pumpkin pie recipe, then all you need to do is swap out your current pumpkin puree with cheese pumpkin puree.