Sweet Potatoes… baked, mashed- candied or casseroled- Southerners do love their sweet potatoes. And while we eat them all year round, the fall and winter holidays – all the way through our traditional New Year’s Day meals of Turnip Greens and Blackeyed Peas tend to feature Sweet Potatoes to signify good fortune in the coming year. Last week, I found some beautiful sweet potatoes from Mississippi at my local grocery store- firm, no blemishes and the color was amazing, so you know they found their way into my buggy. I knew just what I wanted to make- a Sweet Potato Pie- one with all of the holiday flavors I associate with sweet potatoes. Somehow sweet potatoes have always been associated with good memories.
My grandmother scooped the orange pulp from their shells- filled them with mashed spicy buttered sweet potatoes and topped them off with snowcaps of marshmallows- oh my! I can still remember the aroma when they were pulled out of her oven.
I also recall one of her double first cousins- one of nine children- who recalled his momma’s sweet potato biscuits; and another cousin told of one memorably cold morning when he was sent to school with a baked sweet potato in one coat pocket and a sausage biscuit in the other- it kept him warm on his walk to school- he exclaimed that it still remained one of his all time favorite meals.
With the famous Southern Sweet Tooth- it’s no wonder sweet potatoes made their way into sugary pecan topped casseroles and pies- oh yes the pies… Okay. I did a small but significant survey of truly southern folks- who at least had a southern grandmother or two- and yes, it was unscientific – even so of the sampling in my survey- There was one main question…
‘Do you remember eating pumpkin pie when you growing up?’ The most memorable answer was: ‘No, punkin’ pie has a whang to it.’ A whang to it? He went on to tell me that they always grew a few punkins for the kids but mostly pumpkins were ‘fed to the hogs, if the possums didn’t get ’em first.’ Please don’t ask me what it means to have ‘a whang to it’– these are things that can’t be described, you just know. Still. If I ever heard that something had a whang to it- I didn’t eat it. No ma’am, I didn’t. Sweet Potato Pie is the Southern version of the more universally known Pumpkin Pie. So! I set out to make the best Sweet Potato Pie I could… I believe this version is the combination of traditional spices and aromas we all love with a old timey twist on the crust. Here’s how you make it-
Camellia’s Sweet Potato Pie
For the Pie Crust: Make your favorite pie crust or use a prepared 9 inch pie crust. *This is an important step to me- if making your own crust- add a tablespoon or two of cornmeal to the pie dough ; if using a prepared pie crust – brush egg yolk all over the crust including edges, then finely sift cornmeal over the crust- pressing slightly.
I’m not sure why the cornmeal is a necessity for a very good sweet potato pie, yet there’s something about the addition that enhances the sweet potato pie- perhaps it strengthens the pie crust; is just a tradition or adds a subtle flavor but do not miss this step! Chill the cornmeal enhanced pie crust while making the sweet potato filling. *Preheat oven to 450 degrees, after the sweet potatoes are baked and while making the sweet potato pie filling. This is an important step- oven temperature will be reduced in the midst of baking.
For Sweet Potato Filling:
- Bake 2 lbs of sweet potatoes. *Please do not use canned sweet potatoes for the filling if possible, the quality of the pie depends on the quality of the sweet potatoes. I baked mine coated with butter.
- Peel baked sweet potatoes, removing any stringy fiber, before mashing using a light hand- you don’t want mushy sweet potatoes! At this point when sweet potatoes are done, remember to preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Spice Blend: 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. I prefer a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. Sprinkle spice mix, a pinch of salt and the zest of one Orange over mashed sweet potatoes.
- Add 1/2 cup of melted butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of granular sugar. Mixture until light and smooth.
- Beat 3 large eggs until lightened- add to spiced sweetened sweet potato mixture. Then-
- Add 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice and 1/4 cup of half and half or whole milk and 3 tablespoons of good Brandy.
- Mix very well- mixture should be a light, rather airy filling.
- Pour filling into chilled prepared pie crust.
- *I sprinkled the edges of my pie with raw sugar for a decorative effect.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
- Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 25-35 minutes until the pie is puffed and firm.
This is a very good rich fragrant Sweet Potato Pie. Indeed it is my favorite mixture- some add a pinch of ground cloves but I find ground cloves can easily be overdone so use just a pinch. A good sherry or pure vanilla extract can be substituted for the Brandy- again this is personal taste. Fresh Orange Zest and Juice is necessary as well- you may also substitute lemon juice and zest, though I find the orange lends a milder and warmer flavor than lemon juice especially in the fall and winter months..
Okay, I’d like for you to make Sweet Potato Pie like I do- you’ll have a superior pie I think. Or go ahead and use grandmomma’s recipe- even my Great Aunt Trix made a good sweet potato pie, though maybe not as good as this one! Sweet Potato Pie is an iconic Southern pie- one that even our most famous pastry chefs are still making- I hope it will become one of your favorites, too!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photgraphs were obviously taken by me.