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What makes a sweet potato pie great? Here’s what Sacramento residents say

Sacramento Bee
What makes a delicious sweet potato pie?

Michael Harris, the chef who cooked the pies at Sacramento’s 35th Annual Sweet Potato Festival, believes the the secret to a delicious pie is “a good mood.”

“It’s love with anything you’re cooking or baking, but when you’re baking you have to be precise and consistent,” Harris said. “You have to be in a great mood.”

Saturday’s sweet potato festival was hosted at Sacramento’s Samuel and Bonnie Pannel Community Center, and is hosted annually by the National Council of Negro Woman.

The main attraction of the event were the sweet potato pies that sell out annually, said Donna Wood, president of Northern California’s NCNW.

The event also puts on a sweet potato pie contest and Gunther’s, Sacramento’s local ice cream shop, made a sweet potato ice cream flavor for the event.

Local community vendors were also present, including the Crocker Art Museum, The SOL Project, an advocate for smoke-free African American communities; and the Sacramento Job Corps Center, a trade school in the area.

“This event has grown tremendously,” Wood said of the festival.

“In the beginning, 35 years ago, we baked our own pies,” she said. “We literally came here at the crack of dawn and baked the pies for the public. Now, of course, we’re able to use a professional and he is donating his services to do that.”

The festival had roughly 100 full-sized pies and 150 mini pies for sale.

The sweet potato pie debate

A sweet potato pie includes cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and, of course, sweet potatoes. Everyone has their own opinion on what makes the sweet treat delicious.

For some it could be the texture. For others is could be the taste, or even the flakiness of the crust.

Diane Shepherd’s sweet potato pie was ranked first for the second year in a row, and she believes her ingredients make her pie the best.

“A lot of things that I add to it makes it richer,” Shepherd said when asked about the secret ingredient to her pie.

She said her pie is perfect for those days when you want to snuggle up next to the fireplace.

On the other hand, for Franshelle Brown, mastering the proper texture is what makes a sweet potato pie great.

“A great sweet potato pie is when it doesn’t have strings in it,” Brown said “When you bite into it and you don’t get strings.”

History of the festival

The NCNW started the potato festival to keep the tradition of its council’s founding member alive.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the NCNW, started selling sweet potato pies to open a school in Daytona, Florida, said Morlene Anderson, correspondent secretary of the NCNW.

“She started selling sweet potato pie and ice cream,” Anderson said. “And that’s actually how she got the money to get her schools to buy the property.”

Bethune also opened Bethune-Cookman University, an HBCU in Daytona, Florida.

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