You might think the most important ingredient in sweet potato pie is, well, sweet potatoes. But in Sam Davis’s interpretation of the Thanksgiving staple, the root vegetable is technically a substitution. “My family always ate navy bean pie growing up,” says the executive chef of the Garden & Gun Club at the Battery Atlanta. “My sweet potato pie is the exact same recipe my mom and grandma make for navy bean pie but with the beans swapped for sweet potatoes.”
The tradition of navy bean pie got its start in the 1930s, when the Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad espoused a healthy diet free of starch and pork. Trading out ingredients like sweet potatoes for beans became popular, and that’s how the dish arrived in Davis’s family. At the Garden & Gun Club, Davis reinstates sweet potatoes as the dessert’s headliner and doesn’t skimp on flavor: There’s dark brown sugar for a molasses essence, cinnamon and nutmeg for seasonal appeal, and coconut milk for a tropical touch. Because this family-favorite recipe originated in a home kitchen, it’s a perfect candidate to borrow for your own holiday spread.