Garden Recipe: Thanksgiving Yam Pie

By the end of November, San Diego temperatures start shifting to cooler weather—just in time to heat up the oven for a downhome Thanksgiving yam pie.
yam pie sweet potato pie thanksgiving pumpkin pie with leaf motif pie crust

A yam pie, made with mom’s pie dough (but we won’t tell if you use pre-made). Recipe photography by Gary Payne.

It is officially harvest season. November is a favorite time of year when we focus on gratitude for what we have—and if what you have is an abundance of sweet potatoes or yams (I’m thankful that my community-supported agriculture farm box sends them weekly all throughout the season) try using your yams to replace the pumpkin in your pies.

A pumpkin pie is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner, but this recipe—using yams instead of pumpkins—makes it even better. Yams lend a deeper autumn color to your dessert table and the flavor is richer and more complex than pumpkin. Caramel notes come through that are perfect with this pie’s cinnamon-spice blend. Using granulated maple sugar in the recipe enhances that richness even more and is worth the splurge. You can find it in gourmet grocery stores, but if it’s too pricey, coconut sugar or muscovado sugar will work well too.

yam pie crust cookie cutters leaf motifAnd what about pie crust? There are a million results to be found when searching for the perfect pie-dough recipe; the choices can be overwhelming. I went with my mom’s pie dough, which has long been a family secret that I’m sharing with you now: Use milk and add a pinch of baking powder to give a little lift to your pastry.

TIP: Our yam pie crust’s leaf motif was created using mini cookie cutters.

It is important to make your pies ahead of time. Bake a day or two early since they are best eaten cold or at room temperature with lots of whipped cream. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you have leftovers so you can eat some of this yam pie for breakfast with a dollop of plain, whole-milk yogurt on top!

Yam Pie and Pie Crust Recipe

Mom’s Pie Dough

Makes enough for 2 pies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. fine salt
1/2 tsp. double-acting baking powder
2 sticks + 2 Tbsp. sweet butter
3/8 cup milk

Sift the first three ingredients together.

With a pastry cutter, cut in the sweet butter until it forms pea-sized (or slightly larger) pieces.

Moisten with the milk (add more if necessary). Using a large fork, stir milk in a little bit at a time until the dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough. Chunks of butter should show through.

Gently form into two discs.

Roll out the dough for one disc for the bottom of your pie plate and crimp the edges. Set it in the refrigerator while you prepare the yam filling. Wrap and chill or freeze the second disc of dough for another pie another day.

Yam Pie

3/4 cup maple sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground dry ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 3/4 cups baked garnet yams (about 2 small to medium yams)
2 lightly beaten eggs
1 cup milk (scant)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400°F, place yams on the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. Then set the oven to 425°F.

Mix sugar, salt and spices.

Blend in the baked yam with a potato masher or in your food processor. (You can do this while the yams are still hot.)

Mix in the eggs. Gradually add the milk and cream.

Pour into prepared pie crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350°F and bake an additional 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely before serving.

Yam Facts and More

Sweet Potato or Yam?

A true yam is a food staple from West Africa called a nyami. That sweet, orange-colored veggie in our grocery stores—most likely grown in North Carolina—is a variety of sweet potato labeled as a yam (although the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the words “sweet potato” to accompany the word “yam”). Real yams have the same flesh and skin hue as regular potatoes but the skin looks more like bark. Their taste is also more potato-like with more fat, carbs and fiber than a yam.

Sweet Potato Selection

Choose firm potatoes that are uniform in shape with no signs of decay.

Sweet Potato Storage

Store your potatoes in a cool, dry, well-aired area of your pantry and they will keep for up to two weeks. Do not store them in the fridge. If they get too cold, they’ll get hard in the center and they won’t taste good.

More Ways to Prepare Yams or Sweet Potatoes

While sweet potatoes are delicious alone, they also pair well with kitchen staples like sesame oil, ginger, cardamom, coconut milk, cilantro, coriander, sesame seeds, lime, orange, tangerine, smoked salt, white miso, rosemary and thyme. Make them sweet or savory.

Sweet Potato Smoothie

Try this sweet potato smoothie for a pick-me-up afternoon snack.

Combine 2 tablespoons almond butter, a cup of your favorite milk or milk substitute, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup cubed sweet potatoes and 2 carrots. To make it sweeter, add in 2 to 3 dates and blend. Garnish with a sprinkling of nutmeg or allspice and enjoy.

A Trio of Sweet Potatoes

The Covington

  • Orange skin with a sweet flesh
  • Great for mashing, roasting and baking

The O’Henry

  • Copper skin with a creamy flesh
  • Great for soups and stews


  • Red skin with a dry, white flesh
  • Great for roasting with other root vegetables
Categories: Entertaining, Garden in Season, Gardening, Recipe Top Story