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Can't Find a Patti LaBelle Pie? Make Your Own!

Sweet potato pie has long been a cultural touchstone in the black community. But you don't need Patti's product to try a slice — links to good recipes below.
Daniel Zemans
Flickr Creative Commons
Sweet potato pie has long been a cultural touchstone in the black community. But you don't need Patti's product to try a slice — links to good recipes below.

A YouTuber named James Wright Chanel has been all over the Internet praising Patti LaBelle's sweet potato pies; a video he uploaded of himself bursting into song upon tasting the singer and cookbook author's name-brand concoction has been viewed over 2 million times.

Chanel's endorsement created a tsunami of consumer demand, and Wal-Mart shelves around the country have been denuded of the pies in its wake. People have posted on Facebook about successfully waylaying delivery trucks to score a few boxes before the rest hit the shelves. Where they'd immediately disappear again.

All of this pie mania raises a question for me: Are the pies as good as the video?

It's not like I'll get to find out anytime soon — Wal-Mart is feverishly ordering more sweet potatoes to meet the pie demand.

Whether they arrive in time for Thanksgiving is an open question. Which is just as well. People who managed to snag a plate report that they're quite good (if you like really sweet) but they're also kind of scary: One serving size has 440 calories, 61 grams total carbs and 20 grams of fat, the entire recommended daily allowance.

Which seems odd, because LaBelle is diabetic, has preached the gospel of eating lighter, and devoted a whole book to light cuisine. It's called Patti LaBelle's Lite Cuisine.

But I digress. In his video lauding the pies, Chanel urged viewers to "support black people, support black businesses," and while Patti LaBelle is certainly black, Wal-Mart is hardly a black business. Meanwhile, the pies are Wal-Mart's interpretation of LaBelle's recipe, launched in September in partnership with LaBelle. Initially, they were no big whoop. Then came the video.

Sweet potato pies are such a deep cultural touchstone, most black cookbooks will include one in their recipe index. (They don't serve apple or pumpkin at the post-funeral repast, do they? No. Peach cobbler and sweet potato pie will be placed next to Sister So and So's pound cake. It's just how it is, how it's always been and, Lord willing, how it ever shall be.)

Given how strongly people feel about their pie, we trolled the net to find you a couple of alternatives to the commercial Patti Pie, so you can make one, as the Diva sings it, on your own.

Here's a bittersweet remembrance from cook Rose McGee, a tribute to a beloved mother who made a fabulous pie. It's her late mother's recipe, and McGee says nothing else will measure up.

Next, watch the Neelys make pie on their former Food Channel show. The conversation between the couple was honeyed, but they've since split. Fortunately, the recipe for sweet potato pie became community property.

Finally, if you don't like pie, consider sweet potato casserole. Not the cloying kind with charred marshmallow on top, though. This recipe for sweet potato casserole comes from the late Edna Lewis and her longtime friend, Chef Scott Peacock. It's reprinted from the website Food52. It's sweet enough but not toosweet, crunchy (pecans on top) and creamy. And if you don't like sweet with your turkey, get a bowlful after dinner, maybe with some bourbon-spiked vanilla ice cream.

You can enjoy while you play The Best of Patti LaBelle.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book ( Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.
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