When I make pie I hear a song in my head, that song from Waitress.
Baby don’t you cry, gonna make a pie, gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle.
Baby don’t be blue, gonna make for you, gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle.
Gonna make a pie from heaven above, gonna be filled with strawberry love.
Baby don’t you cry, gonna make a pie, and hold you forever in the middle of my heart.
I like the idea of a heart in the middle of a pie representing all the love that goes into making it for family and friends. Pie has always been a big part of our families’ Thanksgiving celebrations, and we each have our own favorites. I like pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies. Michael’s favorite is mincemeat, and my mother adores chess pie. This year our family is having another big Thanksgiving reunion, and by big I mean really big with extended family coming from several states. I can’t wait to see all the cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. We are having a potluck in the city where I was born, and I’m bringing pies—pies with a heart in the middle for the family I love.
Nancy McDermott’s book is full of glorious southern pie recipes, and it’s truly my favorite pie book. She has two sweet potato pie recipes, and I make this one, which is attributed to Bill Smith, the chef at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. The texture and flavor are rich, with warm spices balanced by a lemony tang. Smith uses lemon extract, but I prefer the bright flavor of fresh zest. McDermott’s method of cooking the sweet potato is ingenious, just boil it with the skin on until the potato is very tender, then cool and peel. The potato absorbs enough liquid to give a smooth texture to the pie without being watery.
SWEET POTATO PIE
Adapted from Southern Pies, by Nancy McDermott.
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.
9-inch pie pan
2-quart pot with lid
stand mixer with paddle attachment, or hand mixer and large bowl
pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
2 pounds (~900 g) sweet potatoes, scrubbed well, skin on
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose 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 large eggs
3/4 cup (83 g) light brown sugar
1 cup (240 ml) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
fine zest of 1 lemon
1. Set the oven rack in the lowest place in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
2. Place the potatoes whole in the pot, cover with water, and put on the lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, enough to keep a slow boil. Cook until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and cool.
3. In the small bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking powder, and salt. Peel the cooked potatoes and put them in the mixer bowl. Beat well, then add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each.
4. Add the brown sugar and beat until completely mixed in with the the sweet potatoes. Add the spices, sweetened condensed milk, melted butter, and lemon zest, mixing thoroughly.
5. Pour the custard into the prepared piecrust and bake in the preheated oven until the center of the pie is fairly firm and only wiggles slightly, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Pie will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, but is best eaten within 1 day.