Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato PieThe earliest records of the cultivation of the sweet potato, dated around 750 B.C., come from Peru. A vine native to the New World tropics, the sweet potato was grown throughout  South and Central America by the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.

The Caribbean Taino Indians word, “batata,” was soon transformed into several European words, including the Spanish “patata,” French “patate,” and English "potato." These words first meant specifically the sweet potato, not the white potato that was introduced much later to the North American colonies. 

On the North American mainland sweet potatoes had long been grown by the Indians in Louisiana, where de Soto found them in 1540, and as far north as Georgia. By 1648 the colonists in Virginia were cultivating them. The sweet potato was especially valued during the war against the British and the Civil War for it grows quickly and its underground habit makes it less vulnerable than surface crops to deliberate destruction.

The sweet potato is often referred to as “yams” in the United States. One explanation of this confusion is that Africans brought to America took to calling American sweet potatoes either (Gullah –“njam,”  Senegal – “nyami,” or Vai – “djambi”) meaning "to eat." By the 1800s American were enjoying candied sweet potatoes along with less lavish preparations of boiled, roasted, or mashed tubers. Today some of the most popular market varieties include "Centennial," Goldrush," and "Georgia Red."


Traditional Preparation
  • 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • ½ can evaporated milk
Cook potatoes until done in boiling water. Peel while hot and slice butter over them. Mash and beat with rotary beaters at high speed in a deep bowl. When smooth, rinse beaters and continue beating at high speed, adding sugar gradually. When dissolved, add eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat a few more minutes. Stir in milk gently.
Pour mixture into 2 unbaked 9-inch pie shells. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until firm in center.
Jessie Mae Jenkins’s recipe in Penn School & Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook (1978).