Sweet potato pie's secret is the lemon

November 30, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Lemon juice is what makes L. Bruce Massey's sweet potato pie taste more like sweet potato.

"It neutralizes the flavors," Massey explained to The Herald-Mail from his kitchen table, over a slice of pie.

In Massey's recipe, the clove, nutmeg and cinnamon triumvirate is not required, though a tablespoon of cinnamon is optional. He specifies orange sweet potatoes - Georgia jets or red jewel. Never use canned.

And yes, there's lemon juice.

The effect is a light, creamy pie with a clean taste of sweet potato. If you're jonesing for a nuttier taste, Massey says you can sub in almond extract for the vanilla extract. I thought the recipe was fine as is.

Massey said he got the recipe from his mother, who got it from a friend whose Eastern Shore church, Rockawalkin United Methodist Church, used to sell hundreds of the pies as a fundraiser.


Massey is from the Eastern Shore region, where he said the cuisine skews Southern. What people out here call slippery pot pie, Massey said, is what folks on the Eastern Shore call chicken and dumplings.

Sweet potatoes and kale greens and his mother's fried chicken were among Massey's favorites.

Massey, 53, of Hagerstown, is the assistant director of administration for Washington County Department of Social Services. He is also secretary of the Clear Spring Historical Society.

He chatted more about his recipe with The Herald-Mail at his home.

Sweet potato pie

For pie crust

2/3 cup shortening
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ice-cold water, just enough to make the dough hold together

For filling

3 cups sweet potatoes (Georgia jets or red jewel are suggested), baked or boiled to tenderness
2 cups evaporated milk
1 stick of margarine, melted
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the crust, blend the shortening, flour and salt using a pastry knife. When crumbly, add ice-cold water slowly until the dough can be formed into a large ball.

Split the dough into two pieces and refrigerate, covered in a bowl, for about 15 minutes. Once chilled, flour each side of the dough and roll out on a floured board. Put the dough into two 9-inch, deep pie shells and flute the edges with your thumb.

For the filling, cream together the cooked sweet potatoes, evaporated milk and margarine with a mixer. Add remaining ingredients except coconut and beat until it reaches a smooth, well-blended consistency.

Pour into pie shells and bake at 400 degrees until set, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for about an hour.

Once the pie has cooled, top with coconut.

Makes two pies.

- Courtesy of L. Bruce Massey

Q&A with L. Bruce Massey

So, have you ever tried this recipe without the juice?
I have made it without the lemon juice once, when I didn't have any. There's definitely a difference.

What are some things you remember eating growing up on the Eastern Shore?
I grew up on a Perdue chicken farm. My father was a chicken farmer, so we ate a lot of chicken. My mother made some good fried chicken. That was something that we ate a lot of. Another was kale and turnips. My mother froze three bushels of kale every year. I kind of miss that. Another thing my mother made a lot of was sweet potato biscuits.

What constitutes good fried chicken? I've tried, but this is something I fail at.
She did not use a lot of oil and she only floured it. She only used a cast-iron skillet. As you see, I have four cast-iron frying pans. We had chicken every Wednesday and Sunday.

I bet you're accustomed to eating fresh.
It was a really good life. Father and mother had a pick-your-own business. ... Believe it or not, in this little lot in the city, I have a good garden.

So, what are some other things you like to bake?
I have a really good key lime pie recipe. I make apple pie and I add cranberries to it, spice, sugar, walnuts. I also bake cherry pie. Downstairs in my full-size freezer, I have enough cherries for 16 pies.

What are some savory dishes you like to make?
London broil. I absolutely, positively love London broil. I like fresh pork. I've been doing roast pork loin.

Anything you won't eat?
I love everything except raisins or avocados. Raisins - anything with skin like that shouldn't be eaten. And avocados, I just don't like the texture in my mouth. I like everything else with a passion.

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