Recently, I was at a Southern Foodways Alliance event and among the cool people I got to meet was Nancie McDermott. I have several of her cookbooks and it was a joy to meet her, live and in person! So in honor of National Pi Day, what better cookbook to write about than McDermott's Southern Pies. Not to be confused with her equally fun Southern Cakes, which will need to get its own day.
Allow me to confess that given a choice of pie or cake, I am definitely in the cake camp, but again, it is Pi Day!
Want proof that it's a Southern pie book? Ask yourself how many pie books have a good recipe for the quintessentially Southern chess pie? Now ask yourself how many pie books have multiple chess pie recipes? Now the lofty etymology of the name "chess pie" is that it was a pie one took into the drawing room to play chess. None other than James Beard said the pie got its name because it held well in a pie "chest." But most folks say the name came from Southerner's who said, "Why honey its jes pie." McDermott gives us classic, chocolate, buttermilk, and lemon, plus a variation or two.
The list of Southern ingredients stuffed into this book for make pies include: green tomatoes, scuppernongs, peanuts, peanut butter, pecans, peaches, and the aforementioned buttermilk. The people associated with the pies are a Who's Who of Southern cooking: Dr. George Washington Carver, Leah Chase, Nathalie Dupree, and Bill Smith. Bill Smith came to Chapel Hill's Crook's Corner when Bill Neal owned the place. He never left. This is his take on Southern pie.
Bill Smith's Sweet Potato Pie
Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie (store bought or basic crust)
Pie Filling:2 tablespoons flour1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/2 teaspoon ground allspice1/4 teaspoon ground cloves1/4 teaspoon baking powder1/4 teaspoon salt2 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)2 eggs3/4 cup sugar1 cup sweetened condensed milk2 tablespoons butter, melted1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or vanilla extract (I used vanilla)
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and then crimp the edges decoratively.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking powder, and salt and use a fork to stir them together well.
3. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium bowl and beat them well, using an electric mixer at medium speed or a whisk or big wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add the sugar and beat to incorporate it completely into the sweet potato-egg mixture. Add the spice mixture, milk, butter, and extract, and beat at low speed to combine everything evenly and well.
5. Pour the filling into the piecrust and place it on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake until the edges puff up and the center is fairly firm, wiggling only a little when you gently nudge the pan, 40 to 50 minutes.
6. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature.
Nancie McDermott's Southern Pie, like Southern Cakes before it, is the best kind of cookbook, because it is not just a collection of recipes, but a collection of stories, a collection of our history with tasty pie at the end. And who doesn't love history when there is pie at the end? While Pi Day rolls around only once in century, Pie Day is any day you want it to be. Add this cookbook to your collection and everyday will be Pie Day!
Did we mention the Southern Foodways Alliance and Bill Smith? Check out this Gravy podcast with Smith's cool list of tunes.
Happy Pi Day, y'all!