Making a Thanksgiving with all local produce is a noble goal, but I was pretty bummed when I discovered there are no organic pumpkin growers in Central Texas. Yes, there are occasional rumbo squash and ornamental pumpkins at the farmer’s market, but those are pretty pricy and there’s no guarantee to get one for the big turkey day. Luckily, sweet potatoes are readily available from lots of local growers this time of year, and they make an excellent substitute for pumpkin in many recipes.
Sweet potato pie is a popular Southern dessert in its own right, and it has been a popular dish in America since colonial times. According to Lynne Olver’s fantastic Food Timeline, recipes for sweet potato pie have been published in American cookbooks since the 18th century! Interesting tidbit: pumpkin pie recipes appear in America about 50 years earlier than sweet potato dishes, since sweet potatoes as we know them likely came to the southern colonies on slave and other trade ships from West Africa.
Besides being an interesting conversation piece, this sweet potato pie is an easy and inexpensive addition to my Thanksgiving potluck menu. It sets up a little firmer than pumpkin pie, so it travels well and retains its lovely, creamy texture at room temperature. This recipe also uses regular skim milk (or whatever kind your family likes), so there’s no need purchase special processed canned milk. Another plus, since sweet potatoes keep well (store in a cool, dark pantry), you can stockpile them from regular CSA deliveries in advance of the big day, cutting down a bit on special Thanksgiving food purchases. To save a little work on Thanksgiving day, I’m making the pie crust ahead of time and storing it in plastic wrap in the freezer. Before making the pie, I’ll let the crust thaw in the fridge for a day or two and proceed as usual.*
Sweet Potato Pie
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup very cold shortening or butter
3 tablespoons ice water
1 large sweet potato (about 2 cups, mashed)
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
juice of half a lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Prepare pie crust: mix flour and salt in a small bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender, two butter knives or your fingers, until mixture is crumbly and blended. (The largest pieces of butter should be about the size of green peas, completely coated in flour. In my crust, below, the butter pieces were too big and it was a little tricky to work with.) Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to blend dough with a fork, until dough consistency is even. It’s okay if it’s a little crumbly at this point. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. The dough keeps will keep in the fridge up to 48 hours, and in the freezer for about a month.
After dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface until it is large enough to cover your pie plate. Transfer the rolled dough to the plate by rolling it up on the rolling pin and unrolling it over the plate. Use your fingers to smooth the dough into the plate, the trim away excess dough with scissors or a sharp knife. Press the tines of a fork along the edge of the crust to make a pretty pattern in the dough and secure the edge of the crust to the pan.
Prepare filling: Wash sweet potato and pull out any strings from the peel. Poke holes in sweet potato with a fork. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, until potato is tender. Wait for potato to cool. (I popped the whole cooked potato in the fridge overnight before making the pie the next day. It turned out fine.) Set butter out in a mixing bowl to come to room temperature. Use your fingers to peel skin from cooled potato, and add peeled potato to the mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to cream the potato and butter. (My mixer is a little weeny, so I had to use a fork at first to get the potato mushed enough for the mixer to handle.) Add one at a time: white sugar, brown sugar, milk, eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and spices, making sure to mix the pie filling well between each addition. Once the filling is smooth, pour it into the prepared crust. Set the pie plate on a cookie sheet, and bake in preheated oven for 55 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pie filling will puff up like a souffle while the pie is cooking, but don’t worry– it comes down and firms up just fine! Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold, preferably with whipped cream and cinnamon.
* A note about my pie crust. You can see in the pictures above that when I made this pie crust, the dough was hideous. There were some large, uneven chunks of butter and a few patchy bits of flour. I was convinced I’d ruined the whole thing. Well. I decided to use it anyway and the crust turned out fine. Flaky and delicious and better than those perfect-looking store bought crusts. If, like me, you are a little scared to tackle a homemade pie crust: Have faith! You can do it! Don’t give up! And when in doubt, go ahead and use that ugly homemade crust. There will be sweet potato filling to cover it up, anyways.