This week National Public Radio (NPR) launches “Pie Week” (tweet #pieweek) in time for the July 4th holiday. Pie and 4th of July not only bust a rhyme but go together like peas and rice. I eat baked sweet potatoes. The thought of pie doesn’t strike me until around Halloween when I start planning my holiday baking. Otherwise, July 4th is about summer fruit, frozen desserts, ice cream, sorbet, gelato. I actually go for the fruit tarts especially lemon. Keep it light. But personal preferences aren’t the subject of this post.

Prior to Pie Week, NPR posted a survey on their “The Salt” food blog to identify the top 5 favorite American pies. 14,000 people answered the survey. Blog host April Fulton posted the results to the question – What’s your favorite pie? [to bake or to buy].

The survey choices:
Strawberry Rhubarb
Lemon Meringue
Other (write in)

The results:

1. Apple (17%)
2. Rhubarb Strawberry (16%)
3. Pumpkin (14%)
4. Cherry (11%)
5. Blueberry (8%)

Strong write-ins included pecan, peach and key lime pies.

Compare that with the top 5 pies bought in stores (Source: Nielsen’s Perishables Report):
1. Apple
2. Pumpkin
3. Cherry
4. Blueberry
5. Dutch Apple

April Fulton references a Nielsen’s Perishables Report on market trends — in pie.

The top pies have remained the most popular for the last five years, says Joanna Parker, who studies bakery market trends account services at Nielsen’s Perishables Group. “People like tradition, but more and more in the last five years, they want a change,” she says. A change, like trying chocolate pie, or blood orange, or regional flavors like sweet potato.

Sweet Potato with Marshmellow Meringue Pie - Southern Living's Nov. 2010 cover (click on image for recipe)

Sweet potato not tradition? Having attended church bake sales from the moment my eyes could see the top of the table, I’ve never known one bake sale not to have sweet potato pie on the menu. Not one Thanksgiving where someone baked or was assigned to bake at least 3 sweet potato pies. (Okay, I admit, my kitchen cranks out the pumpkin or apple during the holidays…but I’m just sayin’)

I also find it odd lately to see no sweet potato pie on dessert menus at restaurants featuring Southern food. Should this have clued me into what to expect from the NPR survey? Sweet potato pie didn’t get a respectable write-in (to show). I’ve contacted “The Salt” for more information about the survey.

April and the NPR gang launched their own in-house pie contest. Was there a sweet potato among the competitors? Nope, doesn’t look like it. The winner was a Honey Carmel Peach Pie which does sound rather yummy. The recipe for the winning and the Easy Peasy Key Lime pies are posted here.

I guess this is the NPR in the post Vertamae Grosvenor era. Or maybe Americans take sweet potato pie for granted.

More to come on this topic.

In the meantime…

Check out New Mexico’s Black History Month site which included a Sweet Potato Pie contest. Vertamae Grosvenor was one of the honored guests.

Mary McLeod Bethune (source: Florida Memory)

Mary McLeod Bethune sold sweet potato pies to finance the all-girls Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, FL. Here’s the recipe which can be found in the Celebrating Our Mothers’ Kitchens by the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (Tradery House, an imprint of the Wimmer Companies, Inc., 1994) – Reprinted in Texas Highways

1 c. margarine or butter, softened

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

9 medium sweet potatoes or yams, baked, peeled, and mashed

3 eggs, beaten

2 c. milk

1 T. vanilla

2 unbaked 9-inch pastry shells

Combine margarine, sugars, salt, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl; beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy. Add sweet potatoes, and beat until smooth. Add eggs, beat until blended. Gradually add milk and vanilla, beating well.

Pour filling into pastry shells, dividing amount evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until set. Cool completely on wire racks.

Note: Mary McLeod Bethune made three pies with this recipe instead of two. We divided the mixture between two unbaked pastry shells for thicker pies.

And the Library of Congress has a page on the history of the sweet potato, an all American (New World) treat.

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