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Sugar, spice and pumpkin pies

By Amya Miller

If October had a color, it would be orange. Jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween beg for it. Pumpkin pie is on the menu back home but here in Japan, whole pumpkins are too expensive to be used for anything. Canned pumpkin—I kid you not—has not been on shelves anywhere this year and last. I’ve resorted to begging my husband to lug 30 cans in his suitcase with every trip back. He loves me and agrees, bless that man.

Enter kabocha (かぼちゃ), the closest thing I’ve found to a pumpkin in Japan. I love this but it comes with a warning. A biggie.

It’s a beast to cut. I mean it. I can do it but it takes me a good five minutes to get the knife through the flesh. Use your biggest, best, sharpest, strongest butcher knife and be careful! I usually have to whack it a few times to make enough of a wedge to actually cut it apart.  

The flesh of the kabocha is meaty and thick. Cut it into big chunks and bake it in the oven 180C (or 350F) for 30 minutes or until soft.

While the kabocha is softening, start your pie crust.


For the crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup frozen butter (or lard or vegetable shortening)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4~5 tablespoon ice water

Take note. The fat (butter/lard/shortening) must be frozen, and the ice water must contain ice. Don’t cheat. The amount of ice water necessary changes according to the temperature and humidity inside and out. The warmer and more humid it is, the less ice water you’ll need.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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You don't have to struggle cutting the kabocha. You can get cut kabocha at the supermarket. I will try this!

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I grow, harvest, chop, and bake my own - not all that hard to do if the macaques don't rob my garden first.

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Whole pumpkins are not that expensive we usually buy a half most weeks. Stop when the price is too high. But for a good size pie I guess it would take two at least. My wife can't cut the kabocha/pumpin. I cut into slices then cut the skin off.

You can't use the seeds for growing those you need to buy separately.



1 ( +1 / -0 )

I thought kabocha and pumpkin were the same.

What's the difference? ( Apart from kabocha apparently being hard to cut)

Would butternut squash be a reasonable substitute? I had a bumper crop of those this year. They're good for soup, so I imagine they'd be good for pie, too? Nice and creamy?

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kabocha and pumpkin are the same. Yes I think butternut squash would be nice too! With cashew cream.

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Hi folks,

Kabocha and pumpkin are not the same. The flavor and consistency to start. But, both are excellent in pies.

Butternut squash would work as well but it's much more like pumpkin than kabocha in density. You might need a 1/2 c more.

Thanks for the comments and enjoy baking!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's not necessary to cut or peel the raw kabocha for that type of recipe. You can steam it whole till it's soft. Let cool and everything is easy. The skin is edible and even if you don't want it for the color in the pie, it can be served in soup.

I thought kabocha and pumpkin were the same.

What's the difference?

pumpkin : Cucurbita pepo

kabocha : certain of the sweeter varietals of Cucurbita maxima cultivated in Japan

Pumpkins are a rarity in Japan, I have seen a few times imported for Halloween decoration.

On a cooking point of view, the American pumpkin is very watery and not sweet. You'd need to cook it longer and add sugar to get equivalent texture. For taste, while kabochas (and some in particular) have lots of flavor, pumpkins are bland and the pie mostly gets taste from the spices (in the US) or good amount of vanilla and rum (in France).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

So the English translation for kabocha is pumpkin which my J-wife calls them.

So in fact we are buying kabocha but they look and taste the same as the pumpkins back home?


"Kabocha is smaller than a western pumpkin with dry, dense flesh that when cooked produces a dry, dense starchy block, not unlike a baked potato. Pumpkin on the other hand is moist and spongy on the inside, and becomes a buttery liquid when cooked.",a%20buttery%20liquid%20when%20cooked.

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Amya Miller, thanks for this. I'm wondering, is there a way to make kabocha cookies?

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So in fact we are buying kabocha but they look and taste the same as the pumpkins back home?

I can't know what you were buying back home.

You're from London ? There is a lot of choice at the market. It's possible you were getting kabocha from Asia or other Southern countries. Or some other c.maxima sold under the name "pumpkin".

The author is American and now in the US Japanese kabocha is cultivated and sold as kabocha, So she can find it and also the actual Halloween pumpkin.

I'm not the veggie vocabulary police, it's because you may get very different ingredients and that can ruin your dish if you sub.

I don't get "kabocha" in Paris except at crazy price in rare shops importing from Asia. Even if we cultivate potimarron ( hubbard squashes in English), and some from Japanese seeds 'Green Hokkaido' and 'Red Kuri'. They are not like standard kabocha in Japan. I tried for tempura or nikomi, the result is disappointing. I understand why the Japanese and Korean expats keep supporting the crazy price shops.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Nothing good as a sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving

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