Sunday, 20 May 2012

Southern Comfort on a Rainy Day: Sweet Potato Pie

So, yeah, it's not exactly anywhere near Thanksgiving. Heck, it's not even cold enough out that I can pretend. If only it would stop being grey and rainy it might even be like actual spring! Okay, maybe I'm being a little sulky about the weather we've been having around here lately. Wall-to-wall overcast and drizzle is not exactly pepping me up for a season of new growth and fresh veggies. At least the rain's good for all those gardens...

Well, I find that one thing that really helps with a miserable, soggy day is a oven-warmed kitchen and some appropriate wafting scents. Like nutmeg. And cinnamon. Two of the baker's best gifts, for which we should daily be grateful.

Flicking through my recipe pile, as I do in moments of boredom and/or procrastination, I happened upon the epitome of Southern Comfort Baking: the sweet potato pie. If there's any dish whose name I read in my head with a Southern accent, it's this one. As a true Northwestern Yankee, I rely on stereotype for most of my knowledge of the food of the Good Ole South. Sweet potatoes. Spices. Butter. Apart from crawdads, this one ticks all the boxes!

Before I start rambling about the joys of brown sugar and nutmeg, I have a confession to make: I cheated on the pie crust. I know it's kind of a sin for some people but I used a Krusteaz mix instead of struggling with awkwardly firm butter and easily over-worked dough. I've made pie crust before, honest. But today, sulking about the weather over a cup of tea, I just couldn't motivate myself to do it. Next time I make sweet potato pie (which may well be fairly soon, because this was tasty) I pinky promise that I'll make my own crust. I should hone my pastry skills!

Sweet Potato Pie
adapted from a recipe on

2 cups mashed sweet potato (I used three medium-sized sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon flour
1 unbaked 9 inch pie crust

We begin with the humble sweet potato. A modest, unassuming root vegetable, often mistakenly called a "yam" in the U.S. (sadly, the topic of many a fierce debate between my father and myself. He prefers the waxy, yell0w-fleshed variety.) I believe that the sweet potato is testament to the fact that not everything that tastes fabulous and tummy-filling is waging a war on your cholesterol. Perhaps it is nature's apology for butter (I shake my fist at the sky in indignation for all of our waistlines)

Sweet potatoes are a little, largely under-appreciated gift-- something the Americas, if not America can be proud of (something I may well reassure myself with as the election campaigns get into full, soul-sucking swing). Unfortunately, these little guys are also very firm. This is a food that makes you wait while it takes its sweet time getting soft and delicious. It's worth it, believe me, but I, alas, am often impatient. That's what my microwave is for. The rotating plate thing doesn't really work and I'm not sure what half the buttons are for, but my microwave often comes to my rescue. Today, I chopped my root veg into large chunks and popped them in the microwave. I'm not sure how long it took-- at least fifteen minutes, with lots of pauses for flipping and rearrangement of chunks-- but when they were done, all steamy and oozing juices, the skin peeled away like a dream. I soothed all my impatient nerves with some zen-like mashing and stirring in butter that melted in the warm potatoes, letting off a lovely rich smell.

Zen-like trances aside, after I'd mashed up my sweet potatoes and added the butter, I simply added all the other ingredients, one at a time, making sure to mix them thoroughly so the mixture was smooth and lump-free. I was a little concerned that there might be a bit too much sugar in the mix, it tasted very sweet before I added the evaporated milk and even though it didn't stand out so much afterwards, I'll probably cut it down to 3/4 cup or so next time. The spicing could probably be increased a bit, as well (a little more cinnamon and ginger, at least, wouldn't hurt anybody!)

I didn't end up with the most attractive of results (my crimping techniques need some serious practice) but the taste is really what I care about for my first ever sweet potato pie. And I think it delivered. I almost went back for seconds.

But moderation is good, too. Sometimes...

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