For children, this season of light and merriment brings earnest hopes that past deeds won’t diminish the quality or quantity of treats that they feel certain will appear in colorful wrapping paper with big, bright bows. In my experience adulthood comes with smaller and, often, fewer packages, a less frenzied unwrapping and tearing of that colorful paper and some careful efforts to preserve those big, bright bows. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, though I’ve always wanted one of those giant ribbons that shows up on gifts that get parked in the driveway; adulthood brings a different savor of memories, hopes, and all the gentle smiles of life – it also comes with a tacit understanding that pie is good for the soul and, therefore, exempt from calories counts and diet points and all other parsimonious and Grinch-like accounting.
A good pie is a thing of beauty especially during December – and since we believe in both good food and beautiful things, we’re happy to help you avoid the indignities that can come from an average crust with filling. After all, this is a season of celebration, and you’ll want a pie that matches the mood.
This month, as always, Tomato Head is chock-full of good things to eat in and take home, but right now we’re particularly proud of our pecan and sweet potato pies. Each comes with good memory associations (both from the past and from the ones currently in the making) and the kind of flavor that arises from real people baking things the right way with real food. In general, it’s always a healthier choice if your indulgence isn’t a highly processed food. Of course, if Grandma is baking pies, that’s practically health food – at least for the soul. Tomato Head pies are the next best thing.
This coming Saturday, Mahasti will show you how to whip up our delicious sweet potato pie. We talked about this sweet thing in October for our celebrations of National Dessert Month, but what we didn’t mention is that our recipe is particularly special because it comes from one of angels of Southern Cuisine. If you’re not familiar with Edna Lewis, get thee to a cookery book right now.
In 2006 the New York Times wrote that Ms. Lewis “revived the nearly forgotten genre of refined Southern cooking while offering a glimpse into African-American farm life in the early 20th century.” By the time of her death in 2006, she had a list of honors as long as your arm, but to our minds the greatest tribute is the lasting legacy of good taste that endures in Lewis’ exceptional recipes from her cookbooks, including The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking, and In Pursuit of Flavor. Her sweet potato pie recipe is a perfect example of Lewis’s appreciation for good flavor and good technique – it has the traditional kind spices you expect, but her method brings a delightful lightness to the filling. The secret? Separating the eggs and adding the whites separately after beating them to a froth.
Just this year, writer Frances Lam revisited Lewis’ legacy in the Times (Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking, October 28, 2015), and it’s a fascinating read. But there’s one observation that really strikes a chord with us: “Foods, Lewis argued, are always temporal, so all good tastes are special.” That seems particularly true for this time of year. Because sweet potatoes (and pecans, and apples, and cherries, etc) are available almost all year long, you can make pies any old time you want to do – but I’m pretty sure they don’t taste as good on Labor Day.
We’ll serve this pie as a special dessert on Saturday, December 19 at both locations. If you’d like us to make one for your holiday celebrations and family get-togethers, just stop by the bakery counter at either location, or call 12 Market Square at 637-4067 or 7240 Kingston Pike at 584-1075 by the close of business this Sunday to place your order.
Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie
Makes 2 – deep dish 9 inch pies
2 – deep dish 9 inch prepared pie crust
For the filling:
2 cups mashed sweet potato
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3 medium eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature
In mixing bowl combine the sweet potato, sugar, spices, salt and the egg yolks, vanilla and melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites to the frothy stage and stir them into the batter. Divide the batter between the 2 pie crusts, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until the filling is set.
Serve the pie at room temperature with some whipped cream.