As the young people say, I was yesterday years old when I learned that sweet potato vodka was a thing. And I also found that it came from North Carolina, which is always a plus (shameless plug for the home state). The gents that make Covington do a great job of capturing the essence of sweet potato in their spirit. They give us a spirit that is not only a great state product, but is good for your health as well – it’s naturally gluten free! (Don’t ever say I didn’t throw you some good info!)
What I didn’t know at the time was how it would change the way I looked at sweet potatoes – specifically, sweet potato pie – forever.
One of my personal theories in the kitchen is that it’s never EVER too early to introduce flavor into a dish. Now I didn’t say that to say you should over-season your food. I’m saying that you start flavoring as soon as you start cooking. Or even better, you can start flavor right as you get into the car from the ABC store. You don’t have to wait.
And that being said, we look at the beloved sweet potato pie. Made famous by all our aunts and Patti LaBelle, this pie is as American as is apple pie, if not more so. At least it is in North Carolina, thank you very much. It’s the one pie that no Southern gathering is complete without, period. Forget about who made the potato salad – the knowledge of who made the sweet potato pie has caused many a family disagreement/feud/uncomfortable silence. IF the cook didn’t get it right. In fact, I myself paid a heavy price in charm and pleading to get my Grandma’s recipe from my mother.
That said, I hear you asking yourself why I feel the need to tweak it, if it’s been good enough all these years? Well, if I didn’t do something to it, we wouldn’t have a show, now would we? So…
…back to that sweet potato vodka.
Since we know that cooking alcohol off leaves a wonderful essence, I felt no shame in reverse engineering our taste back to the pie. In fact, if you think about it, using the vodka replaced any need for flavoring like vanilla. What I also discovered, was that the gentle heat from said essence gave the pie a ‘right by the fireplace’ (or, for those of us who enjoy the outdoors, ‘right by the fire pit’) feel that made the cinnamon and the ginger bloom with flavor. And there wasn’t any unpleasant aftertaste. The pie was still just as silky and as gently sweet as my Grandma’s. At least, I would like to think so. So, with no further ado, below are the instructions!
Sweet Potato Pie – I meant, Vodka. It’s What You Eat!
- Pressure cooker (For this recipe I used a Presto 8-quart stainless steel pressure cooker with a tradtional vent. Call me a traditionalist, or a curmudgeon, I can live with it.)
- 2 9-inch frozen pie pans
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes (NOTE:This will come from 4-5 large peeled and chopped sweet potatoes. Make sure to measure AFTER you mash the potatoes. You can mash and refrigerate these the day before if you wish to save time)
- 1½ cups superfine granulated sugar
- ¼ cup evaporated milk
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 tsp sweet potato vodka
- ½ stick softened butter melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 egg yolk room temperature
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp powdered ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Reserve the pie crusts in the refrigerator as you prepare the other ingredients.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Take the previously mashed sweet potatoes while still warm, and press them through a colander or strainer to remove the strings.Add the melted butter, sugar, milk, cream, eggs, and spices into the bowl with the mashed potatoes.With a silicone spatula, fold the sweet potato mixture together. IMPORTANT: Add the sweet potato vodka last! This will make it easier for the alcohol to cook off and leave the sweet potato essence behind.Remove the pie crusts from the refrigerator. Allow them to rest and come to room temperature. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the pie crusts and place them onto the bottom rack of your preheated oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, while watching to ensure that the filling does not turn overly brown – that means it's burnt!Remove, wait to cool, and ENJOY!