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Our panelists have sampled frozen pumpkin pies every few years as new brands roll out their versions of the holiday dessert. This year, our favorite came from Trader Joe's, a store new to our area. The California-based supermarket opened a location in Sarasota in September, so we included the store brand products in several upcoming tastings. Many of the Trader Joe's foods scored well in our samplings. For the pies, we thawed and baked each dessert according to directions.

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Product/Score (out of 100) Trader Joe's 77 Marie Callender's 64 Mrs. Smith's Signature Deep Dish 42
Judges' comments At first glance, judges didn't think this pie looked like a winner. The texture, too, was a bit mushy. But, once they tasted the dessert, they were sold. "This is the pie my grandma used to make," said one judge. "The flavor is tremendous," said another. "There is lots of nutmeg and cinnamon flavor in this." Ginger was the flavor another detected. "It's creamy with a good, crispy crust," he said. "Bring on the Thanksgiving football." The fluted crust and the "nice, burnished top" made this pie a winner as well. Judges loved the melange of flavors. "This pie has a perfectly autumnal center," said one. "It's light and clear and very sweet in the pumpkin department." Another said, "It's got a great crunchy and flaky crust. The pumpkins of the world should be scared once you taste this. It's yummy!" Marie Callender's also was ranked high in our pumpkin pie tastings in 2006 and 2009. One of the most popular pies on the market, Mrs. Smith held her own among the competitors. The only complaint from panelists was that it lacked some of the pizzazz of the other pies. "It needs a lot of whipped cream," said one judge. "I think it's a winning pie because it has a great combination of spices," said a taster who said he would buy this brand. "It's got a nice, gingerbread flavor and it would be great with a big dollop of Cool Whip," said another.
Would they buy? Three of the four judges said yes. Three of the four judges said yes. Two of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information $4.99 for a 21-ounce pie. $7.59 for a 36-ounce pie from Publix. $6.99 for a 43-ounce pie from Publix.

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Serving size One-sixth of pie One-eighth of pie One-tenth of pie
Calories 290 270 260
Fat/Fiber 19g / 1g 6g / 2g 11g / 1g
Sugars/Sodium 16g / 320mg 32g / 230mg 20g / 320mg
Carbs/Protein 28g / 3g 48g / 5g 36g / 5g

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ALSO SAMPLED: Publix Premium ($3.99 for a 26-ounce pie, 28 points); Ultimate Plush Pippin ($2 for a 24-ounce pie from Walmart, 38); and Sara Lee ($2.98 for a 37-ounce pie from Walmart, 33 points).

PANELISTS: John Hehn, foodie and owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; Janet Keeler, Times food and travel editor; Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island; and Wayne Conery, manager of the R Bar on Treasure Island. All foods were tasted blind.

SEND SUGGESTIONS FOR PRODUCT TESTING TO: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to