photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

NC Pie Series: What comes at the end is always remembered: the goodnight kiss, the famous last words, the three-point shot at the buzzer, the homemade pie following a fine meal. What’s a plate of flounder in Calabash or oysters on the Outer Banks without a slice of lemon meringue, served on a Styrofoam plate with a plastic fork? Can you imagine a rib eye at the Angus Barn in Raleigh without the grand finale — that famous chocolate chess, drizzled with syrup, dolloped with whipped cream? What of the perfectly fried chicken at Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill, culminating with a slice of sweet potato or pecan? Sure, we love our cakes, cobblers, and banana puddings, but pie provides the sweetest memories. 

Mama Dip’s has been a Chapel Hill fixture for more than 40 years — and everyone has their favorite dishes. Fried pork chops. Chicken and dumplings. Macaroni and cheese. Then there’s dessert. Banana pudding. Cream cheese pound cake. Pecan pie. The last is particularly popular — founder Mildred “Mama Dip” Cotton Council even made it on Good Morning America in the ’90s — but if you ask the Council family about one of their favorite pies, they’ll tell you: sweet potato. “It was something we had all the time — Sunday suppers, church homecomings, Thanksgiving, Christmas,” Mildred’s daughter Spring remembers. The sweet potato pie sells well, she explains, “because we’re one of the few restaurants where you can find it.”

Like pumpkin pie, Mama Dip’s sweet potato pie has a custardy filling made with milk, eggs, and melted butter, plus warm spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg. But unlike pumpkin pie, which often relies on canned puree, the sweet potatoes are boiled until tender, then mashed until smooth. It’s this sort of handmade touch — literally — that sets Mama Dip’s apart. “Growing up, we were always in the kitchen with Mama, watching her cook,” Spring says. “That’s how she taught us, by touch and feel.”

Mama Dip’s
408 West Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 942-5837

Mama Dip’s Sweet Potato Pie
Yield: 8 servings.

1½ pounds sweet potatoes
1½ sticks of butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (recipes makes enough batter for two pies)

Wash the sweet potatoes and place them in a pot, covered with water. Bring to boil.

When the potatoes are soft (after about 45 minutes), drain, cool, and peel. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the potatoes in a large bowl along with the butter and sugar, combining well. Add eggs. Stir in the spices, vanilla, and milk.

Pour into the pie shell.

Bake in a 375º oven for 45 minutes or until the center is firm.

North Carolina Pie Series: Pumpkin Pie

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Emma Laperruque works as a food writer and recipe developer at Food 52 in New York City.