The Perfect Sweet Potato Pie

Okay . . . so, here we go. The holidays. “Tis the season” . . . yada, yada, yada . . . blah, blah, blah and past the sweet potato pie.

In my home, it is sweet potato pie. I know many folks love their pumpkin pie, but, I’m from Louisiana and I think there may be a law against pumpkin pies within a 120 mile radius of New Orleans city limits.

With that said, if you have never had sweet potato pie or are trying to find a really good recipe for one, brace yourself, here we go.

Now, you are reading and thinking, “Why so many words. Where the heck are the ingredients?” Well, southern folk will tell stories about crickets so you know I got a story about the pie. As a matter of fact, you’re going to have to read the narrative for the recipe. Or, you can just cheat and skip ahead for the ingredients. But, you’ll lose something in the translation and it won’t be as good as you really need it to be.

Throughout the decades I have heard stories of sweet potato pies being so good they would make you want to slap your mama. No one should make anything that good because slapping your mother is morally reprehensible. Staring her up and down and sucking your teeth is something totally different and it won’t get you slapped back. But, I think the best sweet potato pie ever baked came out of the kitchen of a lady named Malaak. You see Malaak is Chris Rock’s wife. He told Oprah that her sweet potato pie is what got him to propose. I truly hope Chris and I are talking about the same thing. Otherwise, disregard that reference.

Okay, the pie. Now, I watched my Mama Bert make hundreds of sweet potato pies during my childhood. She was from the old school of pie making. You got something to mix the potatoes, milk, eggs, sugar, baking powder and a dash of salt in. It was mixed with your hands and the strings from the sweet potatoes were pulled out – – one by one. There were no mixing bowls laid out with pre-measured ingredients. Mama Bert (and all women I knew from that era) relied on love and good taste buds to make a sweet potato pie sang. YES, sang!!! I’m using ebonics and old folk lingo – – pay attention!!!

Now, Mama Bert would take her sweet potatoes (NOT YAMS) peel and then boil them. I do not boil too many foods. Boiling robs them of all of the good nutrients. I will either steam or bake my sweet potatoes.

Mama Bert would then let the potatoes cool for a while then she would begin the mashing process. She would start the mash and string pull event while singing church songs and shoving sweet potatoes into the mouths of us begging babies. I learned from my Mama Max (godmother and genetically linked because Mama Bert, my grandmother and Max’s mama were sisters) that you get a smoother pie if you use a blender for mashing. Also, the blades of the blender snatch the strings out of the sweet potatoes.

Once Mama Bert had the potatoes mashed and cooled she would put some butter (real butter- – about two . . . maybe three sticks), three eggs, some vanilla extract, some flour, some sugar (white or/and brown) about a Ã?¼ teaspoon of baking powder and about a Ã?¼ teaspoon of baking soda. No, I have no idea the exact amounts. I don’t think she EVER owned a measuring cup or spoons.

She would then pour some (let’s say 1 cup) of canned milk into the mixture. Then she would sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg into the mix. Here’s the part that really makes the pie. She would keep adding sugar and sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg until she got the taste just right. How did she know it was right? . . . she was Mama Bert! Sweet potato pie maker extraordinaire! Plus, there was never a drop of pie to be found by the end of whatever holiday she had made them for. Oh and there were always at least 2 dozen sweet potato pies made. It’s a southern thing. We always expect hungry people to stop by.

Now the crust. Mama Bert ALWAYS made her own crust. We now have a lady named Mrs. Smith who graciously sells her pie shells in the frozen food department of most grocery stores. She will hook you up on the crust. Yes, I have and can make homemade pie crust. I’m just not always willing!

So, did you get any of that? Just by reading the above you can make a pie good enough to get a husband. Or, fella’s, you can impress her with your culinary skills and get her to say yes to at least, washing the dishes.

Here’s the breakdown just in case the narrative irked you. This recipe normally yields two deep dish pies or four regular sized ones. This is the Gail version as inspired by Mama Bert (Mrs. Bertha Richards, Jackson, MS 2/12/1908-10/26/1991):

4 medium Sweet Potatoes (NOT YAMS – yams are too sweet)
3 Eggs
�½ cup Canned milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
�½ cup Sugar
2 sticks unsalted Butter (Yes, real butter!!!! Exercise some self control when eating and you can have the real stuff every now and again. Butter should be room temperature and soft.)
1 tablespoon Flour
A Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
�½ tablespoon Nutmeg

The Skinny Version – It won’t be as good, but it will have less calories and fat

4 medium Sweet Potatoes (NOT YAMS – yams are too sweet)
�½ cup Egg Beaters
�½ cup Low Fat canned milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
�¼ cup Splenda
1/2 cup of low fat margarine
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
�½ tablespoon Nutmeg
�½ tablespoon Flour

Steam potatoes in a double boiler for at least 1 hour. Stick with fork prior to and during steam process. Once potatoes are soft and manageable, allow to cool for about 20 mins. Peel skin off. Place 3 potatoes, one by one, into blender (I have an Osterizer). Blend one at a time. Once potatoes are smooth, add eggs – – one by one. Then pour in milk, vanilla, sugar, zest and butter. Blend for 30 seconds. Pour ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add flour. Stir until mixed thoroughly. Now, add half the amount of Cinnamon and Nutmeg. Mix. Taste. Too cinnamony? Add more nutmeg. Too nutmeggy? Add more cinnamon. Not sweet enough. Add a few pinches of sugar or sugar substitute until you’re satisfied. Too sweet?! Add fourth potato! Taste. Get the opinion of anyone under the age of five. They will not lie!!!! Actually, if you can recruit an 11 month old, their pallets are unspoiled and growing. If they spit it out, find a 3 year old (Yuk means either they hate sweet potatoes or you need to start over). Lastly, find a man who likes you but has no romantic link to you. This probably should be your brother. Make him taste. Thumbs up means pour it into the pie shell, put it in the oven for 45 minutes, let cool for 1 hour . . . serve with or without whipped topping.

Now, if you’re really bold (and I am) substitute egg nog for the milk. Not the liquored up version. Any decent store egg nog should do. You may need to eliminate the cinnamon and nutmeg if you do this. Taste the mix after adding the egg nog to see what you should add.

Happy Holiday’s folks. Keep the kitchen traditions going. Add the ingredients one at a time; tasting as you go along. Get the babies and the men folk back in the kitchen. Let them taste, smell and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’ll taste good, your home will smell great and the lines of communication will flow like a raging river.

Eat good! Love hard! Laugh often!

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