Making memories a Thanksgiving tradition

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving traditions vary from region to region, but in Southside Virginia it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without sweet potato pie. Edwina Covington brought her version of sweet potato pie from Exmore on Virginia’s Eastern Shore when she came to Elam almost 50 years ago.

“Exmore was the sweet potato capital of Virginia back then,” she said.

Recalling her childhood in Exmore, Covington said, “Sweet potatoes were on the menu all year long, they were so plentiful.”

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Pies were popular in Exmore homes, Covington recalled, but so were a number of other dishes.

“On the Eastern Shore sweet potato biscuits were a very big thing,” she said. “We also had baked sweet potatoes, candied sweet potatoes and sweet potato pudding.”

One sweet potato variety, she noted, is peculiar to the Eastern Shore.

“The Hayman sweet potato is white,” she said. “It tastes like a sweet potato, and I’d say has a sweeter taste — and it has eyes like a white potato.”

Covington added that when she and husband Julian were taking produce to the farmers market, customers generally bypassed the Hayman potatoes they were offering for sale.

Covington admits she prefers the darker orange potatoes for her pie making. The Covington’s favorite variety now is Beauregard.

Julian Covington, a life-long farmer, is the sweet potato expert in the family. Several factors, he noted, contribute to a good sweet potato crop.

“A whole lot of it is the land,” he said. “Sweet potatoes are one crop you have to spoil — keep the soil around the hill all the time and keep the weeds out of them.”

“A lot of work with the hoe,” Edwina said.

The Covington’s Sleepy Hollow Farm was named a Virginia Century Farm in 1998. Julian has worked on the family farm all his life.

The Virginia Century Farm Program recognizes and honors farms that have been in operation for at least 100 consecutive years and the generations of Virginia farm families who have maintained them.

“This land has been in the family since George Carter owned the property and built the front part of this house in 1808,” Covington said.

Edwina married into the family in 1966 after graduating from Longwood College. She started her teaching career in Lynchburg City schools.

“I taught one year and then went to Appomattox,” she said. “I taught for 42 years, mainly English and French, before retiring. I also taught classes in journalism, producing the school newspaper, and media arts.”

In addition to teaching Edwina helped on the farm.

“I used to come home from school, cook a meal and then go out into the field,” she said. “It was a busy life!”

Covington credits her own mother and mother-in-law for her culinary skill.

“Julian’s mother was a wonderful cook,” Covington said.

She noted that holidays of the past were more focused on food and family than shopping or football.

“Thanksgiving was the holiday,” she said. “Back then it was the first holiday after school started. You didn’t take off for Columbus Day or teachers’ workday or such things as that.”

Christmas was celebrated along similar lines.

“For Christmas we also had turkey,” she said. “I usually made a pineapple upside down cake — to me that’s Christmas.”

With retirement the pace has slowed for the Covingtons, but there are still cows to feed and garden chores to do.

There are also pies to make.

“About middle of September Julian starts digging,” she said. “I make a lot of pies this time of year

to give to family and friends. I put them in the freezer, so I can pull them out later in the year.”

Covington’s recipe differs from the traditional spice-laden version.

“I much prefer my Eastern Shore recipe with more of a sweet potato flavor over the recipes that use so many spices to disguise the flavor,” she said.

Without a doubt, sweet potato pie will be on the holiday menu at Sleepy Hollow Farm. For the Covingtons, it just isn’t Thanksgiving until someone says — pass the pie!

Edwina’s Sweet Potato Pie

(handed down from her mother,

Winnie Rolley Miles)

2 to 3 medium sweet potatoes

1 c. sugar

1/3 stick butter or margarine

2 eggs

½ c. evaporated milk

1 to 2 tsp. lemon extract

Put sugar and butter in mixing bowl. Boil potatoes until done, skin while still warm and rice into mixing bowl. Stir potatoes, sugar and butter together. In separate bowl mix eggs and milk and beat well. Add egg mixture to potatoes and mix well. Add lemon extract. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 375 degrees for around 40 to 50 minutes or until top browns and becomes smooth and solid. (Makes two shallow pies.)

Hilda, named for Julian’s mother the late Hilda Covington, likes to help in the kitchen. Here she inspects an extra-large sweet potato.

Hilda, named for Julian’s mother the late Hilda Covington, likes to help in the kitchen. Here she inspects an extra-large sweet potato.