Your kitchen will smell so good after making this southern sweet potato pie with an orange twist

Thanksgiving holiday pie Getty images/kajakiki
Thanksgiving holiday pie Getty images/kajakiki

Bibi Hutchings, a lifelong Southerner, lives along a quiet coastal Alabama bay with her cat, Zulu, and husband, Tom. She writes about the magical way food evokes memories, instantly bringing you back to the people, places and experiences of your life. Her stories take you all around the South and are accompanied with tried-and-true recipes that are destined to become a part of your memory-making as you share them with your friends and family.

This sweet potato pie gets a bright lift from citrus zest, as well as fresh juice. The filling is gluten-free and tastes lighter and silkier than any sweet potato pie I have ever had. It is inspired by a recipe from one of my mother’s beloved cookbooks, published in 1995, called "Dori Sanders Country Cooking" by Dori Sanders. I have made some changes to it over the years and created a shortcut for the homemade orange and nutmeg infused crust that makes this pie even more special. 

I understand why mom loved this cookbook so much. Not only does Ms. Sanders fill it with her own tried and true family recipes, but she also includes anecdotes about growing up on and working the family farm in Filbert, South Carolina. One of the recurring themes connecting many of her stories is how we tell our family histories through our cooking.

What we make, how we serve, the foods we love — it all provides insight into who we are, where we are from and who our people were. 

I relate to her family having one person whose influence on food, manners and entertaining was profound and far-reaching. I think how common it is for there to be that one individual who comes along every two or three generations and shapes the way things are done in a family for a very long time.

For Dori Sanders, it was her Great-Aunt Vestula, who visited often but came to live at the farm after spending most of her life as a live-in cook for a family in Charleston. When Aunt Vestula came, she brought with her all the techniques she had learned, as well as a whole host of new ingredients to add to their family dishes. Once her health declined, she continued to direct her nieces with authority from her straight-backed chair and never gave up her role as teacher and matriarch of the family.          

I don’t remember sweet potato pie being a main attraction among the dessert offerings at Thanksgiving or other fall holidays when I was growing up, but it would have been had it had been this one. I am sure there was a sweet potato pie or perhaps a pumpkin pie, but our family had other favorites. It wasn’t until I was grown that I began including one or the other for my own family’s autumn and winter celebrations, but this Orange Sweet Potato Pie is a standout. 

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What I enjoy most about sweet potato pie in general is its earthy, almost nutty quality and I think coconut sugar, with its hint of caramel flavor, is just the right sweetener to enhance it. Coconut sugar is also slightly less sweet than regular sugar, which is a plus because sweet potatoes only get sweeter as they bake. If you aren’t careful, you can end up with a pie that is sickeningly sweet . . . but not this one. This Orange Sweet Potato Pie is an elevated version without a doubt; there is nothing typical about it.

Choose an extra sweet variety of orange citrus, like a satsuma or other small mandarin, to really punch up the orange flavor in this pie and don’t hold back on the zest either . . . or the nutmeg for that matter. It all balances beautifully.

And speaking of beauty, this pie is a gorgeous shade of deep, rich amber. The brown coconut sugar deepens the orange color of the potatoes and what you pull from the oven is as pretty as a picture. It is mouthwatering served slightly warm or at room temperature, just as it is, but it can handle a little dollop of whipped cream, if you desire.

I think it is the perfect sweet potato pie.             

Orange Sweet Potato Pie Yields 8 to 12 servings Prep Time 20 minutes Cook Time 55 minutes


1 unbaked pie shell

2 cups cooked, well mashed sweet potatoes (about 3 small sweet potatoes)

1 cup coconut sugar, plus a 1 Tbsp (or granular sugar of choice)

3 eggs

2/3 cup half-n-half

4 tablespoons melted butter

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice, divided (or satsuma, tangerine etc)

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Zest of 1 small lemon

1 teaspoon nutmeg, divided

Zest of 1 small orange (or orange citrus of choice)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.

  2. Prepare Pie crust: If making a homemade piecrust, incorporate the following into your recipe: 1 Tbsp fresh orange juice, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, orange zest, 1 tablespoon sugar. 

  3. If using a ready made pie crust, bring to room temperature then using your fingers spread sugar, nutmeg, orange juice and orange zest right onto the bottom of pie crust before adding the filling.

  4. Prepare the filling: In a mixing bowl add cooked, mashed sweet potatoes, 1 cup sugar and eggs. Mix well, 3-4 minutes, using a hand mixer. Make sure there are no lumps of sweet potato. Mash them well beforehand.

  5. Add half-n-half, butter, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon (or more) nutmeg and vanilla and stir or use mixer to combine.

  6. Stir in lemon zest.

  7. Pour into prepared pie shell and bake 50 minutes or until fully set. Small cracks will appear on top and a knife will come out clean when inserted into the middle.

  8. Serve warm, if possible or at room temperature.

Cook's Notes

Dairy: Non-dairy alternatives like coconut cream or unsweetened creamers work fine in this pie, but if you don’t have a problem with “real” cream, using 1/3 cup of heavy cream makes this pie extra delicious. The other 1/3 can be a lighter (like coconut cream).

Nutmeg: I enjoy nutmeg and use a heavy hand when measuring. If you don’t like it as much, feel free to use the scant 1/2 tsp measures called for in the both the filling and the crust. It will not be overpowering in that amount.

Sweet Potatoes: I prefer baking my sweet potatoes in the oven rather than boiling or steaming them for this recipe. Baking dries them out a bit and enhances their naturally rich flavor. Simply wash, dry, pierce the skin of each several times with a fork, place on a lined baking sheet and bake for about an hour in a hot oven. Allow them to cool before removing the skin.