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Sweet Potato Pie Recipe by an African Slave, Cookbook printed in 1881 –

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe – by an African Slave

Posted by Warren

Makes one 9-inch pie, single crust, custard filling

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby Fisher, 1881

sweet-potato-pie-fisher-african slave 1881

Sweet potato pie is not the national icon that pumpkin pie is, but does run a best second.

Just like pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie is meaty in texture and has a wonderfully dense filling of a creamy consistency. The flavor is unique and sweet. The color is similar to pumpkin.

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby Fisher, San Francisco: Women’s Co-op Printing Office, 1881

Sweet Potato Pie.

Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

A Cookbook with vintage pie recipes

It is surprising that this book was ever written at all and that it has survived to be published since this cookbook was written by a black slave.

Mrs. Fisher, born a black slave, found her way to San Francisco soon after the Civil War. By dint of talent and hard work, she created a life and business there. She and her husband created a business manufacturing and selling “pickles, preserves, brandies, fruits, etc.”

Mrs. Fisher was proud of a Diploma awarded at the Sacramento State Fair in 1879 and two medals awarded at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair, 1880, for best Pickles and Sauces and best assortment of Jellies and Preserves.

mrs-abby-fisher-1879 black slave

Mrs. Fisher seems to have been supported by many of the leading business and professional figures in the San Francisco and Oakland areas. Perhaps it was these kind hearted citizens who helped Mrs. Fisher to write and publish her book as both she and her husband were illiterate.

We are grateful to whomever it was that helped Mrs. Fisher to publish these splendid recipes. She hints that they were written “at my dictation.” This may account for a some interesting variant spellings and names of dishes.

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe – Traditional

—Ingredients and instructions are not the actual vintage recipe but is provided for reference purposes.


Pastry dough – single crust

The secret
of making
a flaky pie crust.

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1/4 cup ice cold water

1 teaspoon cold canola oil



4 to 5 medium sweet potatoes (2 1/4 cups cooked and mashed)

1 cup light cream or half-and-half

sweet potatoes

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Prepare the pastry: Roll the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate with the bottom crust. Roll out the remaining dough for the top crust. Chill the pastry and partial-bake.

2. Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Bake your sweet potatoes
for a richer flavor.

3. Baked the sweet potatoes until tender all the way through, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool.

4. Remove the sweet potato flesh and puree or beat until smooth.

5. Whip the eggs in a bowl until frothy. Add the sweet potatoes, sugars, cinnamon, mace, vanilla, butter and salt. Mix until smooth.

6. Slowly pour the mixture into the cooled pie shell.

7. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F.

8. Set the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes, turn the pie 180° degrees. Continue baking until the center is set and the edges start to rise, about another 20 minutes.


Cracks in the filling
are signs of an overcooked custard.
It is fine but not the best.

9. When ready the filling will be firm. The edges of the filling may puff up a little. You should not see much browning if any on pie filling.

10. Transfer the pie to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

11. For storage cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Sweet Potato Pie Success

Remember this is essentially a custard pie. Like a custard pie, it will turn watery if overbaked. Keep a close eye on it during the last 15 minutes of baking and remove it from the oven as soon as it is done.

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