The New Pumpkin

Giving Thanks with Sweet Potato Pie

Roy Creekmore

If your experiences are like most people’s, you usually shy away from anything called sweet potato pie, because it tastes exactly like, or at least somewhat like, pumpkin pie. The reason for this is that most recipes call for similar, if not identical, spices—and a lot of them. The end result is pies that look and taste alike, which is a shame because both pumpkins and sweet potatoes have very unique and delightful flavors.
    My maternal grandmother, who lived her whole life on a farm in Appalachia, made both pumpkin and sweet potato pies. While her resources were limited, she was able to make these two desserts so that they possessed distinct flavors and were never confused for one another. Her secret was to use only a few spices, and in limited quantities, so that her sweet potato pie actually tasted like sweet potatoes.
    I have taken her basic recipe and modernized it by utilizing some ingredients and techniques that were not available to her. My grandmother was a very practical, hard-working woman, and contrary to the myth that the older generations wanted to make everything by hand, she would not have hesitated to use a good product or device if it eliminated unnecessary steps. So, while she had no alternative but to make her own piecrust, I substitute a frozen one to save time. I also use an electric mixer and ingredients such as oranges, which add brightness to the sweet potatoes and are now available year-round. The addition of Southern Comfort, an apricot liqueur, came from my desire to use something that would further enhance the sweet potato flavor, making it a delicious holiday dessert—not another pumpkin taste-alike.

Sweet Potato Pie

Pie filling:
1 pound sweet potatoes, preferably the red/orange variety
¼ cup butter
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 medium orange (use zest only and a micro planer for finer texture)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ cup Southern Comfort
1 frozen, unbaked nine-inch pie shell

4 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then place the sweet potatoes in a large saucepan or pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a knife (about 30 minutes).
While the potatoes are cooking, take the pie shell out of the freezer and let it thaw according to the instructions on the box. When thawed, place the shell into a glass pie pan and press evenly into place, making sure that the shell is even on all sides of the pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to bake the pie. Then, in a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients together with your fingers or a fork until well blended. Set aside.
    When the sweet potatoes are done, remove them from the pan and cool slightly. As soon as you can handle them, peel the potatoes and place them in a large bowl. Add the butter and beat the mixture until it is smooth and the butter is melted and incorporated. (This process is accomplished easily with a large mixer or a hand-held one.) Add the rest of the filling ingredients and mix well. Do this last step by hand, using a folding motion so as not to whip the eggs too much.
When the filling is thoroughly mixed, pour it into the pie shell. Mix the topping ingredients a final time and crumble the mixture evenly over the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. Cool at room temperature.
    You can serve this pie either warm or chilled—it is delicious either way.

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