For Black History Month I wasn’t sure what I should do. After going back and forth with different ideas I finally decided for the third time lol to create a short list of popular desserts hosted by Blacks/African-Americans. Today I shall start off with pie.
Food has always been utilized for celebrations or simply an opportunity to gather with loved ones. Soul Food, the term originating from the 60’s, known as the African-American Southern Cuisine has been an important staple of our culture. Combining ingredients, recipes and experiences passed down from our African elders, Native Americans and even Europeans is what makes it interesting and dear to our hearts.
With recipes dating back to Medieval Europe, the Sweet Potato Pie is a traditional open face pie usually prepared by boiling the potatoes until soft and skinning them for mashing. The pie filing is usually a combination of the mashed potatoes, sugar, milk and eggs, however varied regions include spices, flavoring or additions such as vanilla and cinnamon.
Today Blacks/African-Americans are mainly familiar with sweet potato pies. It’s the staple of most African-American homes. However, Africans were more familiar with yams since yams were native to Africa. Around the 16th century, Europeans brought over the practice of preparing pumpkin pies as a main dessert to West Africans as well as sweet potatoes. However, during the times of slavery, Africans abandoned the use of pumpkin and leaned towards the use of yams and of course eventually transitioned into sweet potatoes.
(photo credit: metrocuisine.net)
To this day a lot of people still do not know there is a difference between yams and sweet potatoes. Nyami, Oyame or Yam Yam is the African word for the edible starchy root – Yam. Yams (from the dioscoreaceae family) are starchy while sweet potatoes (from the convolvulaceae family) are sweeter and have smoother skin while ranging in colors from red, brown, purple, yellow, orange and beige. Similar to sweet potatoes, they are not related.
I had the benefit to have come across a Sweet Potato recipe from Mrs. Abby Fisher of which I listed below. With a career in hospitality, she was a former African-American slave who was able to have a cookbook published. Amazing right?!?! Born in South Carolina, Abby’s culinary skills developed leading her to future success. Married to Alexander C. Fisher, the two had eleven children and by the end of the Civil War gained their freedom and transitioned to San Francisco. In time she became a popular cook, catering to the upper class which led into her published book.
Sweet Potato Pie
What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby Fisher, 1881 (noted as the first African-American Cookbook)
Below is a copy of her recipe…
- Soft and hard copies found on amazon.com
Well, I personally wish there was a warm, orange, circular display of a sweet potato pie sitting in front of me. I would love to take a bite out of a soft, flaky, buttery crust while allowing my teeth to gently surrender into the spice-filled filing. I would sit back and enjoy the moment while listening to the elders in the kitchen explain what makes a perfect sweet potato pie. I’d try to take note in-between reaching for another slice, trying to remember what they just said. Oh well. These would be the days I wish I could speak to my grandmother and ask her. YET, all I can do is try my best knowing my boyfriend or mother will complain, stressing it’s just not right. (smiling yet giving sad face on the inside) <chuckle>
I’m sure there’s still so much more to learn about this item, some facts to straighten out, but for now this shall do. Feel free to also share your knowledge of the topic for I would love to hear/read your thoughts.
For additional readings about sweet potatoes and varied uses of them research George Washington Carver. In 1922 Carver created a bulletin of a few dozen uses of sweet potatoes ranging from breakfast items to desserts and so much more.
Also another cookbook to view, Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat: The First Cookbook by an African-American Chef
UPDATE AS OF 2/17/17
I’ve since learned that upon moving her family along with her husband to San Francisco, she began to enter cooking competitions. Mrs. Fisher’s specialties were jellies, preserves and pickles of which earned her praise and recognition in the 1880 San Fransisco Mechanics Institute Fair. There, Mrs. Fisher won two first place metals for ‘Best Pickles and Sausage’ and ‘Assortment of Jellies and Preserves’. Soon she was able to open her own business called Mrs. Abby Fisher and Company and later Mrs. Abbey Fisher Pickle Manufacture.
And I forgot to say HAPPY SWEET POTATO MONTH!