African American History Month is winding down like a satisfied cousin LeRoy snoozing in the good chair after the family meal on any given Sunday. But just before he yawns, stretches, loosens his belt, and swears he’s just “resting his eyes”, it’s time for dessert.

Sweet Potato Pie has long been a staple in the homes of many African American people. It is the pie that puts the final touch on any celebration from holiday meals to church gatherings. Lawrenceville baker, Joanne Canady-Brown, owner of the Gingered Peach, has offered up a new take on this much cherished, almost sacred, dessert. In a nod to this month-long celebration of American History, and as an homage to the ancestors, your grandmama’s sweet potato pie is ready for her close up with some help from the gang at the Gingered Peach.

This is a sexy pie, no doubt about it. Smooth, creamy with side-eyes and a bit of attitude. It sits among the other pies like that one woman in church with the Jessica Rabbit hips, whose skirt is just a little bit higher than the deacons’ board would like. You look. And then you wonder. 

I had heard the rumor about this pie and ran out, and got one of the last ones. I then grabbed my favorite “Taste Bud”, Joanne Pawelko, and we sat down to try this wonder out. 

Real talk: There was some hesitation, despite its fame and heritage, personally I barely like sweet potato pie on a good day. I do have this thing about the color purple, however, and that is what drew me to this pie. I have bought, and baked, purple sweet potatoes – Okinawan Sweet Potatoes are what is most available here in the US. Flavor-wise they are a different kind of sweet then the traditional orange-fleshed spuds most of us are used to. They are simultaneously a bit lighter and bring a depth that you really have to taste for yourself.

We put on the kettle and surveyed the best way to experience this novelty. That beautiful magenta color, somewhere between a true purple, a deep crimson, and reddish aubergine, demands your attention. This pie makes a statement and stands out among its brethren in the pie world. Where others may need to accessorize, there really isn’t a need for this pie to bring much more to the table than plumish color, but, Canady-Brown did not let the pie leave the shop without a little “sumtin-sumtin” to up the “come-hither” appeal. A cluster of granola decorated a small portion of the pie accompanied by a sprig of thyme gently lying in repose on top, which immediately reminded me of the gardenia that Billie Holiday wore in her hair. Just beautiful.

Again, this is not your grandmama’s sweet potato pie. Cinnamon and nutmeg move aside, allowing ginger and cardamom their time in the spotlight. Canady-Brown’s deft syncopation of these offbeat spices, complete with orange zest, gives this sweet potato pie a feel of newness and familiarity simultaneously. The unexpected purple potato mixture rests on a flaky, buttery crust that is just right, and we know what “just right” feels like. Many a grand pie has been felled by a soggy, mushy or a flavorless crust with the thickness and taste of a medium sized FedEx box.  

In other sweet potato pies I’ve had, there can be a kind of fibrous, almost sinewy, feel to the filling. The velvety smoothness of this pie is exactly the opposite of that. Rich and bodied in mouth feel and just the right consistency for you to notice, which only adds to the complexity already layered by the choice and amount of spices. There is not the overwhelming sugary taste that can too often, and too easily, mute any other flavors. This pie challenges your tastebuds to grow up and embrace not only the African American history of the past but the history being made right now. This revelation of flavor does not forsake its predecessor.  On the contrary, it pulls the history, the traditions, the memories, the dreams deferred, the dreams realized, the struggles, all forward to this moment. This classic, humble pie, steeped in tradition, has journeyed with the souls of black folks for centuries, awash in our tears and joys, culminating in this regally colored work of art, this triumph of nature and the human spirit.

 Go get your fork.

Happy African American History Month from Mercerme. Yum it up, y’all, Tell all your friends.

Want the recipe? Click below to see how Joanne makes this magic! https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2022/02/10/purple-sweet-potato-pie-black-history-month.

If baking this seems daunting, get one at the Gingered Peach. They’ll be baking them until the end of the month. The Gingered Peach is located at 2 Gordon Ave, Lawrence Township, NJ 08648. Call first though, (609) 896-5848. Enjoy!

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Renata Barnes
Renata is the author of "The Taste Chase," MercerMe's own food review column. She's a lover of all things poetic, colorful, funny and inspiring. A native New Yorker, who grew up in Hopewell Valley and spent the better part of her adulthood back in NYC, currently finds herself in a growing love relationship with “the Valley”. Latin food, Indian saris and mehndi, French perfume, African music, Middle Eastern spices, South American jewels, Asian fabrics and anything from just about any island (maybe not Riker’s Island) are things that remind her to go out and taste the world, live passionately and always wear deodorant. The mother of one rambunctious boy and the wife of a mellow fellow, Renata tries to put her too many years of university and her film and writing talents to good use here in NJ. “I’ve spent too much time trying to fit in some where when I probably belong everywhere. That slow revelation has been freeing.”

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