Miss Mittie's Sweet Potato Pie
Updated: Feb 29
(by Janie Braxton)
Mittie Dee McQueen—Ms. Mittie, my mother—is something else. Feisty, courageous, strong-willed, devoted God lover, the Energizer bunny. Always in a resale-thrift shop or estate sale. She travels constantly—a serious “wanderluster” who finally got to step foot on African soil during a trip to South Africa with a granddaughter.
She is also a woman who came into this world not wanted. Her parents were two people that got involved with each other. Their unprotected lust brought forth Mittie Dee.
Ms. Mittie was named after the family’s matriarch “Mama Dee,” a formidable, towering black woman who moved from the South to Detroit and established businesses in real estate, made smart financial investments in stocks, and owned her own grocery store.
My mama has many of these traits, even though she was treated worse than a stepchild. Mittie Dee was not loved like her siblings. Her upbringing consisted of being moved from family member to family member, as if to hide the “stain” on the family’s name.
(l. to r.: my sister Diane, my mom Miss Mittie, and me, with my gleeful granddaughter Nahla)
One tool they gave her was how to cook. Her many aunts and uncles showed her how to cook “old school” style, by “feeling.” You “feel” rather than measure ingredients, to make it taste the way you want. This practice was a leftover effect from slavery. Since slaves were forbidden to be taught to read, they cooked with instinct or were beaten. Some of the greatest food in America comes from brutality.
And some of Mittie Dee’s greatest dishes came out of her unhappy childhood. A standout specialty that all her nine children fought over was her sweet potato pie. Her pies were a gift from Mama’s soul. She would mix the sweet potatoes with a concoction of her “feelings,” adding a strong touch of nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and a cascade of condensed “Pet milk.” Then she would add real butter, pats and pats, until she felt the pies were right.
Ooh, Mama Mittie! Those pies represented unconditional pleasure and pure, pure love.
But what was really happening was: We didn’t want to let go of Mama. We tasted her “essence.” We tasted our mother’s life.
Secretly Mama enjoyed the attention and the arguments about who would get to take the last pie home after a holiday meal. She knew she was loved, deeply.
Mama still makes her pies, and we are deeply, deeply grateful.
Janie Braxton is a singer, actress, and writer in New York City. She can be found on Instagram.
Miss Mittie's Sweet Potato Pie
My mama, Miss Mittie, wasn’t taught to use measurements like tablespoons or ounces. A regular eating spoon was a measuring spoon. Store-bought measuring cups were used only once in a while. Cooking was done with “feelin’s” and whatever tools were on hand in the kitchen. You’ll get the idea of how Miss Mittie made her pies, and you’ll learn how to cook with “feelin’s” too.
4 - 6 large sweet potatoes or yams
6 - 12 eggs, beaten
1 - 1 1/2 lb. butter, melted
1 - 2 c. sugar
2 - 3 cans (4 oz. each) Pet evaporated milk
grated nutmeg, to taste
1 - 1 1/2 t. vanilla or lemon extract
store-bought pie crust (Miss Mittie made her own but was happy to turn this part of pie-making over to the supermarket)
Put the sweet potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.
Boil until soft and tender.
Peel potatoes while they are still hot. (This is the secret of the flavors jelling together to give that “Yes, Lawd” taste.)
Place potatoes in a large bowl, and add eggs, butter, milk, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla or lemon extract.
Add enough flour to bind the mixture.
Stir, stir, stir, until everything is well mixed and you have a beautiful bowl of sweet potato pie decadence.
Pour into piecrust.
Preheat oven to 350 F. and bake for 30 minutes, until edge of crust is turning golden brown. (Keep checking; nobody wants to eat burned piecrust.)