Was it sweet potato or pumpkin pie for 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. The texture difference is less pronounced by thinning down the sweet potato mix with a little extra evaporated milk.

I have a northern relative who says she doesn’t like sweet potato pie and wouldn’t eat it. I made one once, thinned it down to stretch the filling, 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. By the way, don’t expect to see a food picture. I’ll leave that to the millions of other people who post stuff. I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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