Maryland's Historic White Potato Pie Is An Economic Treat

food, maryland's historic white potato pie is an economic treat

potato pie on a cutting board

Defining pie is about as easy as making one, which is to say, it’s more complicated than it looks. When you discover the many odd and increasingly wild pie recipes out there, like chess pie, avocado pie, and stargazy pie, it may be wise to remind yourself what exactly a pie is. According to Merriam-Webster, a pie is a dessert with a filling and a pastry shell, but that definition omits savory pies like chicken potpies. Britannica has a more all-encompassing definition, suggesting that pie is just a pastry filled with a sweet or savory mixture, and we think that hits a little closer to the mark.

With that definition in mind, let’s consider potato pie. The potato pie has been a culinary creation enjoyed throughout U.S. history and is most commonly made using sweet potatoes or yams (via Greatist). Without the New World’s vast collection of spuds, these pies would not have been so popular, but luckily they were easy to grow and relatively affordable. But thanks to some good ol’ New England thrift, instead of the sweet potato pie or the yam pie being adopted, the white potato pie was born.

History Of White Potato Pie

food, maryland's historic white potato pie is an economic treat

Peeled potatoes and scraps

The question you must be asking is, why, if the sweet potato was already a well-beloved and delicious ingredient in colonial pie making, did those in the Northeast turn to the white potato? A Taste of History tells us that the white potato pie truly found its footing in Maryland, where it was appetizingly called “White Potato Pudding in a Paste.” The recipe was very similar to sweet potato pie, but the people of Maryland were severely frugal, and instead of buying a new batch of potatoes for a simple pie, they decided to use the scraps they saved from using white potatoes in other meals. And while sweet white potato pies aren’t exclusive to Maryland, they are a staple in the state.

Maryland was a huge agricultural producer when the white potato pie was created, and potatoes were often the crop that got rotated between others, like tobacco, corn, soybeans and wheat from year to year (via Preservation Maryland). So, the potato tended to be boom or bust, depending on the harvest year. These crops are what the poorer individuals of Maryland relied on to feed their families in a pinch, so if all a family had to make dinner was white potatoes, they made do.

How Is It Made?

food, maryland's historic white potato pie is an economic treat

Mashing potatoes

As you might have already guessed, the white potato pie recipe doesn’t differ all that much from a sweet potato pie or even a pumpkin pie. According to Atlas Obscura, the white potato pie is made with a filling of white mashed potatoes, eggs, butter, condensed milk, and nutmeg and is supposed to taste smooth and creamy. You aren’t likely to find the white potato pie floating around outside Maryland state lines today, but if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how delicious this uncommon dessert can be!

Visit Maryland claims that this colonial-inspired pie is still kicking around the Chesapeake area and is now made with a wealth of ingredients early colonists didn’t have access to. These days the white potato pie is made by mashing together a filling of potatoes, butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder, and salt and mixing in some heavy cream until it is silky smooth in texture. Then you can add some zip to your pie with some lemon juice and zest as well as vanilla; of course, you can’t forget the nutmeg. This filling is then ready to be poured into a flaky pie crust and baked until firm. It may not be your traditional holiday dessert, but it would be a fun way to surprise family and friends when they ask: What kind of pie is this?

The Best Ingredients

Russet potatoes

We are always looking for the cheapest, quickest, and easiest recipes to throw together, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that high-quality ingredients make for a high-quality dish and low-quality ingredients … well, you get the picture. Even though the white potato pie was initially made out of food scraps doesn’t mean that yours has to be. And these days, potatoes are cheap and abundant, so there’s no need to skimp.

White potatoes are the star of this dish, so what kind should you be using for the most velvety-tasting pie? Though the oldest cookbook to print a white potato pie recipe, Mary Randolph’s 1824 “The Virginia House-Wife,” specifies using white potatoes, Old Line Plate suggests using russet potatoes for your pie. The russet potato’s characteristics perfectly suit the needs of white potato pie because they are floury and dry with a light, fluffy texture after being mashed and cooked (via Fresh Solutions Network). Other white potato varieties may turn out gritty and make for a less appetizing dish.

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