On November 14, 1960, 6 year-old Ruby Bridges became the first black student to attend a previously all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Ruby, flanked by U.S. marshals, had to walk past a mob of jeering segregationist protesters and Confederate flags to enter her school. One woman shouted threats to poison her. What courage little Ruby must have had to attend William Frantz Elementary in the midst of so much opposition.
Now an adult Ruby Bridges Hall still lives in New Orleans. In 1999, she formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences."
Ruby has a sweet-tooth and listed sweet potato pie as one of her favorite desserts, and New Orleans institution Dooky Chase's Restaurant as one of her favorite restaurants, saying Leah Chase cooks just like her mom.
The following recipe is one Leela Punyaratabandhu of She Simmers adapted from Chef Chase's no-frills but delicious sweet potato pie recipe from the book, In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs. What makes this pie stand out is its crust which has finely-chopped pecans mixed into it and its fuller-bodied filling, a result of hand-mashing the sweet potatoes.
The Best Sweet Potato Pie Adapted from Leah Chase's Recipe
1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c finely-chopped pecans
1/2 c cold butter (original uses vegetable shortening)
1/4 c iced-cold water, or as needed
2 large sweet potatoes (approx. 1.5 lbs), peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 c sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp melted butter
Pecan halves for decoration
- For the crust: In a food processor, pulse together all the dry ingredients and the butter into short bursts until the mixture forms pea-sized lumps. Add the water through the feed chute as you pulse until the mixture forms a stiff dough and pulls away from the sides of the food process or bowl. Form the dough into a 6-inch disk and wrap it in plastic; chill for one hour. The dough can be made in advance. It can be kept refrigerated for several days and even frozen.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Roll the chilled pie dough into a 12-inch round and press into a 9-inch pie pan. Flute the edges. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is set and beginning to brown slightly. Remove the pie pan from the oven and let it cool.
- Put the sweet potatoes into a medium pot and cover them with water by an inch. Bring to a boil. Boil slowly until the potatoes are tender with no absolutely no resistance at the center when pieced with a fork.
- Drain off the water and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Do not use a potato ricer or food processor.
- As you mash the potatoes, add the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg; then whisk in the eggs, milk, and vanilla. The butter goes in last.
- Once the filling is well-mixed, pour it into the baked pie crust. Arrange pecan halves around the outside edges and sprinkle the top of the pie with more ground cinnamon. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the filling is set and the edges of the crust have browned.
- Serve the pie warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.