+
Most Shared

The surprising history of sweet potato pie that will make you think twice about pumpkin.

After nine black churchgoers were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, Rose McGee traveled to South Carolina from Minnesota with 56 sweet potatoes pies in tow.

They were made with love by McGee and several volunteers, who just wanted to do their part in the wake of a senseless tragedy. It wasn't the first time she was moved to act. Through her volunteer organization, Sweet Potato Comfort Pies, McGee and volunteers make and deliver sweet potato pies to families in need, first responders, and public servants as a way of community-building. She also made and drove down 30 pies to demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, and worked with a group of First Nations women out of Omaha, Nebraska, to deliver sweet potato pies to people demonstrating at Standing Rock.

McGee (center) at Standing Rock. Photo via Sweet Potato Comfort Pies/Facebook, used with permission.


Why sweet potato pie? Raised in rural Jackson, Tennessee, McGee feels the delicious dessert has always had a special place in her heart. Her grandmother and great-grandmother would make the pie and offer it to friends and neighbors in times of joy and grief.

"Some people, it may have been cake or it may have been something else, maybe a pot of soup," McGee said. "... Whatever that happens to have been, it's time to bring it back because we really do need some healing in our country, in our society, in our world. And sweet potato pie is what resonated with me."  

McGee stores another batch of comfort pies. Image via FOX 9 News | KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul/YouTube

McGee is not alone. Some people might try to tell you differently, but sweet potato pie is not just pie.

Behind every rich and decadent bite of sweet potato pie, there's also tradition, joy, struggle, and love, especially for the black community. In fact, the history behind sweet potato pie is as rich and exquisite as the dessert itself:

Photo (cropped) by F_A/Flickr.

In the 18th and most of the 19th century, pretty much anything that made it to America, was picked, built, created or made better by a slave.

Sweet potatoes were growing in popularity among wealthy white Southerners, but it was black people doing the planting, harvesting, and cooking. So American sweet potato recipes, including pies, were created and refined by black people. Before long, the vegetable was a culinary staple of any Southern kitchen.

Even though slaves were working with sweet potatoes in the big house, most slave quarters didn't have the right equipment or heat sources at the ready to efficiently and adequately bake a pie.

Slaves in the Caribbean were known to pour boiling sugarcane on top of sweet potatoes to cook them, essentially creating the "candied yams" so popular today. (Note: Sweet potatoes and yams are two different vegetables. I can't stress this enough.)

Only after slavery ended and black people had access to better equipment and key ingredients did sweet potato pies begin to find a place in black kitchens.

After all, sweet potatoes were still a common crop in the South, and when properly stored they were available year-round. Plus, unlike with apples or cherries, just one sweet potato of size could make an entire pie. Still, they were reserved for special occasions because sugar, eggs, and ingredients like cinnamon or nutmeg were expensive and difficult to come by.

A black tenant keeps sweet potatoes in his tobacco barn circa 1940. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott/Library of Congress.

But it would be a scientist, not a chef, who would forever cement sweet potatoes into black culinary history.

In the early 20th century, George Washington Carver, a black scientist and inventor, developed more than 100 uses for sweet potatoes including postage stamp glue and and synthetic rubber. He also came up with his own recipe for sweet potato pie, which featured sliced rounds instead of the typical mash. His research and push to black farmers helped popularize the vegetable, and recipes began to circulate in books and periodicals across the country.

George Washington Carver circa 1910. Image restored by Adam Cuerden. Photo via Tuskegee University Archives/Museum.

Before long, sweet potato pie was a staple in black kitchens across the country and woven in black history.

Today, it's still common to see sweet potato pies in black and Southern households to celebrate family reunions, special occasions, and holidays, particularly Thanksgiving.

It's the epitome of comfort food; creamy and rich with a tender and flaky crust. Some jazz it up with bourbon, rum, or candied nuts. But even at its simplest, sweet potato pie speaks to the soul. It's the perfect expression of care and gratitude.

“There's the joy I see among the volunteers who come and make the pies, and they want to do something," McGee said. "We have to keep moving and bring on hope, the best way we can ... if it's baking cookies or making a pot of soup, or making candy, whatever. It just happens to be for me, sweet potato pie."

Whether you're serving one for a celebration, to strangers in need of support, or for your family at the holidays, each slice is sliver of compassion. And there's always room for that.

Photo by iStock.

Ready to take your dessert spread to the next level? Add sweet potato pie to your next celebration.

This recipe is from Abby Fisher, a former slave turned business owner and cookbook author. Her book, "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking," was published in 1881, an impressive feat for a black woman at the time considering Fisher did not know how to read or write.

135 years later, her sweet potato pie recipe still holds up.

Abby Fisher's Sweet Potato Pie:
Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullen-der (colander) while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks (yolks) and whites separate and add one gill of milk (one half cup); sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one- half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

Food writer and author Laura Schenone suggests baking Abby's pie for 45 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

Finally, someone explains why we all need subtitles

It seems everyone needs subtitles nowadays in order to "hear" the television. This is something that has become more common over the past decade and it's caused people to question if their hearing is going bad or if perhaps actors have gotten lazy with enunciation.

So if you've been wondering if it's just you who needs subtitles in order to watch the latest marathon-worthy show, worry no more. Vox video producer Edward Vega interviewed dialogue editor Austin Olivia Kendrick to get to the bottom of why we can't seem to make out what the actors are saying anymore. It turns out it's technology's fault, and to get to how we got here, Vega and Kendrick took us back in time.

They first explained that way back when movies were first moving from silent film to spoken dialogue, actors had to enunciate and project loudly while speaking directly into a large microphone. If they spoke and moved like actors do today, it would sound almost as if someone were giving a drive-by soliloquy while circling the block. You'd only hear every other sentence or two.

Keep ReadingShow less

Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson in 2006.

A startling number of professional athletes face financial hardships after they retire. The big reason is that even though they make a lot of money, the average sports career is relatively short: 3.3 years in the NFL; 4.6 years in the NBA; and 5.6 years in MLB. During that time, athletes often dole out money to friends and family members who helped them along the way and can fall victim to living lavish, unsustainable lifestyles.

After the athlete retires they are likely to earn a lot less money, and if they don’t adjust their spending, they’re in for some serious trouble.

In a candid interview with NFL Hall of Famer and TV personality Shannon Sharpe, Chad Ochocinco (legally Chad Johnson) revealed that he saved 80 to 83% of the $48 million he made in the NFL by faking his lavish lifestyle because it made no sense to him.

Keep ReadingShow less
Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

American mom living in Germany lists postpartum support and women are gobsmacked

“Every video you make gets me closer to actually moving to Germany.”

U.S. mom living in Germany shares postpartum support she received.

Having a baby is not an easy feat no matter which way they come out. The pregnant person is either laboring for hours and then pushing for what feels like even more hours, or they're getting cut from hip to hip to bring about their bundle of joy. (Unless you're one of those lucky—or rather not-so-lucky—folks who get to labor for hours only to still end up in surgery.)

Giving birth is hard and healing afterward can feel dang near impossible, especially given that most states in the U.S. only offer six weeks of maternity leave and it's typically unpaid. But did you know that not everyone has that experience?

A mom who had her first child in the U.S. before meeting her current husband and relocating to Germany is shedding light on postpartum care in her new country. The stark contrast is beyond shocking to women living in the U.S. and she's got a few considering crossing the ocean for a better quality of life.

Keep ReadingShow less

Meghan Elinor chimes in on the Starbucks tipping debate.

Tipping culture is rapidly changing in America, so understandably a lot of people aren’t sure what to do when they buy a coffee and the debit card reader asks for a tip. It used to be that people only tipped bartenders, drivers, servers and hairdressers.

Now people are being asked to tip just about any time they encounter a point-of-sale system. There is a big difference between tipping a server who lugged around hot plates of food for an hour-long meal and someone who simply handed you an ice cream cone.

"We're living in an era of inflation, but on top of that, we've got tipping everywhere—tipflation. I take it a step further and call it a tipping invasion. Because that's really what I think it is," etiquette expert Thomas Farley (aka Mister Manners) told CBS 8.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

One moment in history shot Tracy Chapman to music stardom. Watch it now.

She captivated millions with nothing but her guitar and an iconic voice.

Imagine being in the crowd and hearing "Fast Car" for the first time

While a catchy hook might make a song go viral, very few songs create such a unifying impact that they achieve timeless resonance. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is one of those songs.

So much courage and raw honesty is packed into the lyrics, only to be elevated by Chapman’s signature androgynous and soulful voice. Imagine being in the crowd and seeing her as a relatively unknown talent and hearing that song for the first time. Would you instantly recognize that you were witnessing a pivotal moment in musical history?

For concert goers at Wembley Stadium in the late 80s, this was the scenario.

Keep ReadingShow less