I don't remember the first time I ate sweet potato pie but I vividly recall the instant in which I decided that sweet potato pie was far superior to pumpkin. In one mouth-watering moment, I resolved to choose sweet potato over pumpkin every chance I got.
This life-altering experience occurred about 10 years ago in a barbecue joint called Alonzo's, which was in the Argentine district of Kansas City, Kan. Alonzo and his pie are long gone but my memory is firmly intact.
I was driving my mother-in-law on an errand one autumn afternoon when we got a whiff of barbecue and pretty much followed the aroma to a late lunch. We were the only people in the restaurant when we finished our meal about 3 p.m., and Alonzo himself slipped two slices of pie onto our table, gratis.
That was it. The richness and depth of flavor in that slice of sweet potato pie forever changed my perception of what a vegetable pie should taste like. Pumpkin isn't even in the game.
The unexpected act of generosity behind that experience merely heightened the pleasure. Since then, when I think orange pie, I see that plate sliding across the table before me and I can taste that first bite.
Every fall when the grocery stores put up their displays of canned pumpkin pie filling, I thank Alonzo for showing me the light.
At some point later I tried to contact the restaurant to see if Alonzo would part with the recipe and it was then that I learned he was no longer in business.
The following recipe is one of Craig Claiborne's. If you want to spike it with a tablespoon of dark rum, just decrease the milk by that amount.
Sweet Potato Pie
Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk
Prepare the pastry and line a pie plate. Cover the crust in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use.
Meanwhile, cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise and place them in a saucepan. Add water to cover. Simmer 20 minutes or longer, until the potatoes are tender. Drain.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the potatoes and put through a food mill or blend in a food processor or electric blender. Spoon and scrape the puree into a bowl and add the butter, syrup, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, egg yolks and milk. Blend well.
Beat the whites until stiff. Fold the potato mixture into them. Pour the filling into the prepared shell and bake 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Makes 8 servings.