If they’d let me have another couple of dozen pies in the cookbook, I would have blessed Southern Pies with a whole entire chapter on sweet potato pie. It’s always been one of my favorites, and since I discovered the easy delights of eating a baked sweet potato for lunch, my delight in anything sweet-potato has only grown with the years. Sweet potato biscuits, sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato muffins, and why have I never seen a sweet potato scone? Note to self: after the pie book gets a good solid launch of course… For a devotee of the sweet potato like myself, Chapel Hill, NC is a mighty fine place to live. This is because I can stroll through the Carrboro Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, and buy myself a big bag of superb sweet potatoes grown by Mr. Stanley Hughes of Pine Knot Farms in Hurdle Mills, NC. In addition to his pastured pork, free-to-hunt-and-peck chicken, collards, broccoli, tomatoes and more, his beauregard and o’henry sweet potatoes make people happy and keep them coming back, along with his country sausage, of course. Check out Mr Hughes at http://www.carrborofarmersmarket.com/Pine_Knot_Farms.shtml Right up the road from the Farmer’s Market sits Crook’s Corner Restaurant, where brilliant and highly praised Chef Bill Smith serves up extraordinary Southern-inspired dinners, which my family and I have been cherishing on a regular basis since we moved here at the end of the last century — love saying that, though of course I mean 1999. Generous soul that he is, when I asked him for a pie recipe for my cookbook, he shared his father’s signature dessert, sweet potato pie. It’s a marvelous version of the classic dish, with cinnamon, allspice and cloves to brighten it and sweetened condensed milk to keep it silken yet substantial. This recipe makes a deep dish pie, which I tend to cook in my ceramic pie plate which holds a particularly generous amount of filling. Here I used a standard piepan, and had enough left over to make a small batch of tartlets, made by lining a mini-muffin tin with piecrust dough. I also made a little pyrex dish of sweet potato pie sans crust, just so I would have something to enjoy while the pie and tartlets cooled. After all, I did the measuring, stirring, and stove-tending all by myself. Not that it was difficult or demanding; I just don’t want to wait for my sweet potato pie.
Crook’s Corner Chef Bill Smith’s Daddy’s Sweet Potato Pie
1 9-inch unbaked piecrust
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 /4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, or vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, spices, baking powder and salt in a little bowl and use a fork to mix them well. In a medium bowl, lighten the sweet potatoes by beating them well with a whisk, an electric mixer, or a big wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, and stir well each time to mix them evenly. Add the sugar and beat to mix well. Add the sugar-and-spice mixture, the sweetened condensed milk , melted butter, and lemon or vanilla extract. Mix everything together evenly and well. (If using a mixer, use low speed.) Pour the thick filling into the piecrust. Place in the 350 degree oven and bake until the filling puffs up (especially around the edges, and is firm enough that it jiggles only a little at the center, 40 to 50 minutes. You can test it by inserting a wooden tooth pick or a bamboo or wooden skewer or even the blade of a paring knife in the center; it should come out clean, no filling sticking too it. (That would mean it needs longer cooking time to cook through to the center.) Place on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel, and cool to room temperature.
This pie recipe is adapted from Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan, (Chronicle Books, October 2010). Copyright: Nancie McDermott, all rights reserved.