Sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are two distinct products, but it’s easy to get them confused. They’re both milk that comes in cans, and they’re usually stocked right next to each other, often with the same cute little cow on the label. Grabbing one when you meant to grab the other is not outside of the realm of possibility.
If this has happened to you, and you’ve suddenly find yourself with a can or evaporated milk when your pumpkin pie recipe calls for condensed — or vice versa — do not panic, my friend: You can make pumpkin pie with either one.
Either milk can be used to add rich, creamy body to your pie. Both have had around 60% of their water removed, but sweetened condensed milk is thicker and (obviously) much sweeter. Sweetened condensed milk is also a little higher in fat, so pies made with it will be silky and dense, while pies made with evaporated milk will be a little fluffier.
Luckily, you can find multiple pumpkin pie recipes geared toward either type of milk. Recipes that call for evaporated milk require additional sugar; recipes that use sweetened condensed milk do not. The Libby’s recipe (the one on the back of the can) calls for evaporated milk and 3/4 cup of sugar, while this one from allrecipes calls for a can of sweetened condensed and no additional sugar. Other than that — and a slight difference in spices — the two recipes are identical.
So you see, grabbing the “wrong” kind of milk during your fevered last-minute holiday shopping run is not that big of a deal. You can either seek out a recipe that’s geared towards the milk you have, or add or subtract sugar from your old familiar recipe to suit the canned dairy you have on hand. The most important thing is that you don’t panic. There are plenty of things to panic about on Thanksgiving Day, and pie shouldn’t be one of them.