Texture distinguishes sweet potato, pumpkin pies


By Ted Manzer

Friday, November 24, 2017

Was it sweet potato or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving?

People line up on both sides. In this locale more folks probably favor sweet potato over pumpkin, but you can’t go wrong with either.

I laugh when I hear people argue over it. To be honest, if spiced the same it’s challenging to tell the difference. I bake my sweet potatoes before I put them into a pie. Many folks boil them. Other than texture differences boiled sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie are nearly indistinguishable, especially if the pumpkin flesh is strained and puréed.

I have a northern relative who says she doesn’t like sweet potato pie and wouldn’t eat it. I made one once, said it was pumpkin, and she liked it. I never told her any different.

I made that miscue once. My wife’s Maid of Honor refused to eat venison. At the time that was my major meat source and I made a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs. My sauce had all the trimmings and she attacked it like she hadn’t eaten in days.

When she went back for thirds I asked her if she liked the deer meatballs. That was a mistake. She threw the plate in the sink and it broke into a million pieces. It was one of those Corelle ware plates. They’re pretty durable but when they break they shatter into tiny slivers. I learned my lesson after that.

I think the biggest reason people generally don’t distinguish my pumpkin from sweet potato is that I spice both of them identically and very heavily. I don’t spare the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves or brown sugar. The only thing I do is lower the sugar slightly for the sweet potato pie.

Growing up in Maine, we couldn’t grow sweet potatoes, so we seldom ate them. Pumpkins grew like crazy in our garden. Pumpkin pies were always on the table at Thanksgiving. It was the same in West Virginia.

Since I moved here I’ve converted to sweet potato, mostly because they’re more available in fresh form. I’m not a major fan of canned fillings though I’ve used them from time to time.

I think the secret to a great sweet potato pie is baking the sweet potatoes. Baking them to the point of slight caramelization is even better. I know they aren’t quite as bright and pretty, but I’m a big fan of brown sugar or molasses.

From a nutrition standpoint, sweet potatoes have more calories, but they also contain more protein and fiber per pound of flesh. Sweet potatoes are also slightly more vitamin dense too, but not enough to make a major impact on our diet.

So what’s my choice? I don’t have one. They’re far less important than family. Thanksgiving is all about realizing how lucky we are. Spending the holiday with family and good food is something we all should be thankful for.

Why argue about pie? Can you really go wrong with pie anyway? There’s plenty to disagree with, like football games and whose favorite team is better. Pumpkin and sweet potato are both winners.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.