by RB King
Minnesota Spokesman Recorder
When it comes to holiday desserts, two pies reign supreme. Pumpkin and sweet potato pies are vital to the festive feast, but which one is on the table is sometimes rooted in cultural and or regional preference.
In many Black households, bringing a pumpkin pie to the Thanksgiving feast may result in folks getting the side-eye.
And a sweet potato pie with a soggy crust may mean that the baker was not aware of the browning-the-pie-shell-trick which keeps the crust nice and flakey.
Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potatoes come from South America. It was first made into pies and tarts in Britain. It was a particular favorite of King Henry VIII and became associated with luxury desserts. Yes, the vaunted sweet potato pie has high-brow and bourgeoisie roots.
Sweet potato pie made its way from Europe to colonial America, where it found root in the South, where the weather was more suitable for the plant. It was often made on plantations by African slaves for slave-owners. The cooks added their own taste, making it more to their liking, and kept the recipe and passed it down. As a result, it became linked to Black culture and few Black folks can remember a time when sweet potato pie wasn’t on the table for a holiday gathering.
“I’ve always considered the sweet potato pie to be the sacred dessert of Black culture,” said Rose McGee, of Sweet Potato Comfort Pie. “To us, it has more soul than pumpkin.” She began the organization when Michael Brown was killed, driving down to Ferguson with some pies to hand out.
She hasn’t looked back.
Sweet Potato Comfort Pie’s mission statement is “A catalyst for caring and building community.” They hand out pies after tragedies, on Juneteenth, on MLK day—the list goes on because they see how much the dessert can mean to people.
Pumpkin Pie has a very similar history to sweet potato pie. Pumpkins originated in Central America and were brought to Europe in the 1500s. It was originally called “pumpion” from the French “pompon,” in reference to its round shape.
It was quickly adapted into a pie and this recipe remained popular with settlers in New England. While the climate in New England made it difficult for sweet potatoes to prosper, pumpkins were well-suited. Over the years, pumpkin has become associated with Thanksgiving because it coincides with its harvesting time.
In the 19th century, Thanksgiving was a controversial topic. Southern states saw the New England attempt to make the day a national holiday as trying to force their culture down their throat and saw pumpkin pie moreover, such a regional food, as being evidence of anti-slavery sentiment.
Incidentally, in the 19th century, the pie was favored by abolitionists, most of whom hailed from the New England region of the U.S. Several of them included the pie in their written works.
Reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder.
Rose McGee’s Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
Makes Two 9” Pies
- 4 medium size sweet potatoes, cooked
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- 2 unbaked pie shells
Use a Hand-Mixer or KitchenAid™ Type Mixer
- Preheat oven at 400 degrees;
- In a large mixing bowl, mash the cooked sweet potatoes.
- Blend in sugar. Blend in eggs. Blend in melted butter.
- One at a time, add next 6 ingredients; mix well.
- Pour into pie shells.
- Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 60- minutes.
- Remove from oven. Allow pies to set (firm) for at least 30 minutes.
- Eat warm or allow to cool longer before eating.
Note: Sweet potato pie can be left at room temperature up to two days without refrigeration. Can be refrigerated up to one week and remain fresh. Can also be frozen.