ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We don't know about you, but we are officially one week away from some serious pie here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And now, our lust for Thanksgiving pie is now so intense that we like to look at pictures of pie and even hear stories about pie, for example, this one, thanks to our Found Recipes series.
MATTHEW RAIFORD: Hi. My name is Matthew Raiford. I am a chef and farmer located in Brunswick, Georgia. My sister and I own a Georgia Centennial Family farm. The land's been in our family since 1874, and our Nana is the matriarch of the family.
SIEGEL: And Nana, his grandmother, known in Brunswick as Miss Ophelia, is famous for her sweet potato pie.
RAIFORD: Let me tell you what's so fascinating about the sweet potato pie. As a child, I just thought it was the best sweet potato pie ever because, you know, it's your Nana and, you know, Nanas always make the best. But when I watch someone that had never eaten sweet potato pie before get the look of euphoria on their face and just sit down and go - oh, my God, that has to be the best pie I've ever eaten - and just sit there for like a good 30, 40 minutes like they were just completely at peace, it has to be the love that she's put in that sweet potato pie.
Most people are thinking of a big, giant, sweet potato pie, like in a nine-inch pie crust. My Nana only makes little bitty pie crusts. It would take about three bites to eat the whole pie. When you bite into the sweet potato pie, you can taste everything - the cinnamon, you can taste the sweet potato, you can taste the nutmeg, and then you get this crunchy top part that you think is all sugar. And it gives it this - I don't know, if you're looking for acronym, it would be GBD, golden brown and delicious.
So my Nana's getting older. You know, she's 93 now. She'll be 94 in December, to be exact. And no one in the family really knows how to make the sweet potato pie like she does. So I kept thinking about it. So being a chef, I need to carry this pie forward. I thought that maybe I would just make sweet potato pie and take it to her and ask her, you know, tell me what I did wrong. That was a mistake.
So I took her a nine-inch sweet potato pie, which had a slice. Her first thing was, it's too much pie. And so I thought, well, it's just a slice, you know? And she says, no, when you eat sweet potato pie, you're supposed to have just enough. So that was the first mistake. The second mistake, I think, was the fact that I thought I knew how to make sweet potato pie. There I go. I went to culinary school. I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. And what do I get? I get, lo and behold, baby, let me show you how to make sweet potato pie.
I don't know if anyone has boiled a sweet potato. She boils it with the skin on. And then she pulls - as she's pulling the skin off, the small threads, the small fibers that are inside the sweet potato, peel off with it. And then she uses what's underneath that as part of her sweet potato mix. She, like, tastes the sweet potato itself and then figures it out. So when we're sitting there, she kind of like had this, I don't know, sweet potato guru look on her face or whatever and was kind of like, that sweet potato right there, let's see if we got another one in here. And I was thinking, did we cook more sweet potato than we needed? She does.
And then it's all about feel, touch and taste. Just enough egg, not too much. Adds a little bit of sugar to it, a little bit of cinnamon, little bit of nutmeg, and she tastes it. And then she takes these little pie crusts, I mean, tiny pie crusts and pours the sweet potato pie mixture into that sweet potato pie crust. And then she pours just enough evaporated milk where she can still kind of see the sweet potato mixture underneath it, and then she bakes it all just like that. When I talked about GBD, that golden brown delicious, the secret ingredient would be that evaporated milk.
From what she told me, she's been making sweet potato pie since she was a child. So I'm thinking 82 years. How do I compete with 82 years? That's almost twice my age. But I'm going to go and try it, you know? And she's like, OK, baby, go on and try. You know, that was encouraging, right?
And I took it back to her, and she, you know, I felt like I was back in culinary school almost, like I'm, you know, doing a practical on how to make sweet potato pie. Because she actually sat there and, like, savored the first bite, like, kind of bit into it and was like (chewing). And I was like, OK, she's smacking. Maybe that's a good thing. And then she said, baby, a couple more years, you'll have it. That's Nana.
SIEGEL: That's Chef Matthew Raiford of Brunswick, Georgia. And do not worry, pie lovers, he has written up his Nana's sweet potato pie recipe as best he can. It's on the Found Recipes page at npr.org.