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Crook's Corner Chef Bill Smith's Daddy's pie: Ideal for Thanksgiving, but so good I make it and eat it all year-round. Leigh Beisch's gorgeous photo from "Southern Pies"

Pumpkin pie suits me fine, and I gladly eat it all year long. With Thanksgiving meals on my mind this week, I wanted to share a simple treasure that my friend Bill Smith shared with me about 3 years ago. When he was in his early 60’s, my father began making the pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, and he continued that tradition as long as his health permitted, which means well into his 80’s. He just decided to try it, buying frozen pie shells from the grocery store and following the recipe on the side of a can of pureed pumpkin. I loved that, and when I asked Bill for a pie recipe and he offered that his father is Mr. Sweet Potato Pie, it delighted me because of the Dad-connection, as well as because of the fact that I adore sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes in any form (including with minimarshmallows) please me deeply, and sweet potato pie is high on my list of everyday sweet pleasures.

I featured Bill’s recipe here on my blog a little over one year ago, when my pie book had just been published and I was making and posting a number of pies to celebrate its debut. For this one, I made it in mini-muffin tins, to share that simple way of making a wonderful home-baked dessert that is easy to share at gatherings. No cutting pieces and transporting them to plates with trepidation: you pop those pie-ettes out of their muffin-tin-positions and you have a hand-held sweet that looks lovely and allows people not only to choose and eat fork-free, but also to enjoy small bites when there are many treats from which to choose.

There are two schools of sweet potato pie preparation, one swearing by roasting/baking the sweet potatoes, and the other devoted to boiling them. I have tried both ways and gotten excellent results each time. I like baking because I can put in more than I need and have a baked sweet potato or two or three in the fridge for speedy microwave lunch on hand. I like boiling because it keeps them right there where I can check on them easily with the fork-test, and because I love peeling a boiled potato, when the skin slips right off and you see the smooth perfection of sweet-potato’s inside color and shape, sans peel, as if they just took off their winter coats. This all reminds me to go visit Mr. Stanley Hughes of Pine Knot Farms at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market this week, as he is the grower and purveyor of the very finest sweet potatoes in the whole wide world, right up the road about 20 miles north of here in Hurdle Mills, NC. I need to stock up for fall lunches, for Thanksgiving casserole preparation, and for some just-because-it’s-Thursday/Saturday/gorgeous autumn day sweet potato pie.

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)

2 eggs

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.

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Belinda Smith-Sullivan Reply

    Reminds me of my Mama’s!!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      She must have been the Queen Bee of old-school Southern desserts! Did she have a recipe box, recipe file, notebooks, or was she the cooking-from-hands-and-heart kind of baker?

  2. Jamie Reply

    Oh I must share with you my sweet potato pie recipe. I LOVE sweet potato pie and haven’t made it in years, so thanks for the impetus! I love the idea of making mini pies in muffin tins! Cool! And yours looks fabulous! Love the book and have been pouring over the pages trying to figure out which pie to make. But now I do need to bake a sweet potato pie!

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