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October 21, 2007

Table salt (Recipe: sweet potato pie)

Iodizedsalt

It's not Hawaiian, French or Portuguese. Not grey, not pink, not black.

It's not sea, and not Kosher with a capital K.

In fact, it's so ordinary that the label just says "plain salt".

I call it table salt, because that's what my grandmother called it. When she said "put salt and pepper on the table," this is the salt she meant.

This particular jar of table salt has been in my pantry for years; I transferred the salt from the cylindrical container to a glass jar to minimize the amount of moisture that gets into it. I use table salt only for baking, and I don't bake very often. This salt, the house brand from my local supermarket, is not iodized, so it does not add a chemical flavor to baked goods. It does contain an anti-caking agent.

Let's talk about iodized salt for a minute, because when I was growing up, iodized salt was the norm. Created in 1924 by the Morton Salt Company, iodized salt was touted as a way to help prevent thyroid disease and promote good health.

Iodine, part of a hormone, thyroxin, which is responsible for maintaining a person's metabolic rate, comes from the sea and from soil that has previously been under the sea. Saltwater seafood, sea vegetables (such as kelp, hijiki, arame, nori, and laver), vegetables grown in iodine-containing soil (found on any land that was previously under the sea), and animals grazing on plants growing in iodine rich soil all are good sources. Iodine deficiency remains a serious public health issue in many parts of the world, especially where the soil does not contain iodine; though it seems like those areas would be far from home, the Great Lakes region of the US is one area where the soil is not iodine-rich.

Why is table salt preferred when baking cupcakes, brownies, pie crusts, cookies and breads (yes, even the now-famous no-knead bread)? Because the larger the salt crystal, the more time it takes to dissolve. Table salt has the smallest crystals, and dissolves most reliably.

The folks at Morton Salt have some great trivia questions on their site, about Columbus and Napoleon and Caesar and George Washington, but here's the trickiest:

Question: Which of these can't you live without?
Answer: (a) Money; (b) Love; (c) Salt; (d) Chocolate.

You know which answer the Morton folks chose. Which would you choose?

Sweet potato pie, crust and all

A classic dessert for the holiday table, this recipe makes enough filling for two pies, and you’ll want to make two! To make crust for two pies, don’t double the amounts; make two individual batches of dough, or substitute ready-made pie crusts.

Ingredients

For the crust (enough for one 9-inch pie):
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup very cold unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup very cold vegetable shortening
1/3 cup ice water

For the filling (enough for 2 pies):
6 large sweet potatoes
3 large eggs
1/3 lb margarine or butter
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 can condensed milk

Directions

To make the crust: In a large bowl combine flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and vegetable shortening. Add ice water and stir just until the mixture comes together. Work the dough as little as possible. The larger the pieces of shortening and butter that remain, the flakier the crust will be. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until firm. (Chilling not only lets the dough relax; it also firms up the fat.)

To make the filling:  Place sweet potatoes in a pot with water to cover, and boil until soft. Drain, and remove skin from potatoes. In a large bowl, mash potatoes well with a potato masher. Add baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey and condensed milk, and whip together until smooth. 

Partially bake the pie crust:  Press the crust into a 9-inch pie plate, and decorate or crimp the edges. There are several ways to keep the crust from shrinking or rising up while it bakes (called "blind baking"): either line the crust with aluminum foil, and fill with rice or dry beans; or line with foil, and invert the pie crust over another pie plate of the same size (the crust bakes as a “sandwich” between the two pie plates). Bake in a 425°F preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden color. 

Raise oven heat to 450°F. Pour sweet potato mixture into the pie shells, and bake for 45 minutes or until pies are firm (because some ovens are “hotter” than others, check the pies after 45 minutes -- it could take a total of an hour for the pies to cook).

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spice cake 
Honey gingerbread cookies
Outrageous brownies

Comments

I've never had sweet potato pie - sounds delicious - but my holiday table is going to be in a nice country hotel.... I hope!
We were in the U.S. last year so this year is at home...

The sweet potato pie sounds sooo yummy (and I love that it has lots of sweet potato and less sugar)...I'm going to try and make it sometime in this season. Let's see if I feel brave enough to make the crusts :)
"Table salt" in chemistry is the common name for sodium chloride, as opposed to the thousands of other salts that exist (many of which will kill humans if we eat them!) and iodized salt...wow, it is quite a public health achievement, because iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation.

Have you read that iodine deficiencies are on the rise even in developed countries, apparently because so many cooks now only keep the "better" sea or kosher salt in their pantries? In addition to baking, I use table salt (and yes, that's what I call it too) for cooking vegetables in water - it's cheaper!

I love sweet potato pie and i really like the brown sugar and honey. Might have to add a little mace since I found some lovely at Pensy's.
Strange how profound an effect the lack of very small amounts of iodine can have on our bodies!
Looking forward to your posts on the tagine class!

Never thought about the pros and cons of iodized salt from a health standpoint. Very interesting. It made me stop and wonder if I even have any "table salt" in the house right now.

Yum, sweet potato anything is delicious! I use Kosher salt when I cook - when I am baking, I grind it down to powdery state :)

Even with all this kosher or sea salt popularity, I still keep some table salt in the pantry because it is just perfect for making rice and other recipes where quick salt dissolution is important. I am just curious is there brand of sea salt that contains iodine?

I love sweetpotato pie. The list of recipes I'm collecting from you is growing. ;-) I have used iodized salt in a long while since I started using sea salt. I should buy some Mortons salt and leave it in the pantry.

Paz

Katie, true confession -- my Thanksgiving holiday is going to be in lovely hotel somewhere, too!

Nupur, I don't often make crust from scratch (I'm partial to the Pillsbury refrigerated crusts), but sometimes I give myself a pastry refresher course! Iodized salt was quite a brainstorm in the 1920s.

Alanna, I did not know that about the use of "better" salts (and of course they are not so much better, as different) causing a resurgence of iodine deficiency. Thanks for updating our knowledge on this topic.

MyKitchen, I never keep mace in my pantry -- hmmmm, I wonder why not? I guess it's because I'm such a bake-o-phobe. The tagine class was great -- I'll be sharing some of the recipes over the next couple of weeks.

Kalyn, we all assume that certain public health issues have been eradicated in our society, but clearly this is one that has not been. I'll be reading more about this now.

Radish, I never thought to grind down my salt for baking. Does this mean that I don't really need six different salts in my "perfect" pantry???

Veron, that's a great question, and I don't know the answer. I've never come across one; the iodine is added during the processing of table salt. Sea salt is not processed to the same extent. I'll throw this one out to Pantry readers, if anyone has a definitive answer.

Paz, this sweet potato pie isn't too sweet, which is why I like it. Hope you'll give it a try!

I really only use the "better" salts as others have called it for finishing dishes. While cooking I used plain iodized salt. My mother also called it table salt.

I definitely choose LOVE!!! ...with gobs of that sweet potato pie and whipped cream.

I use table salt for baking and salting water. :) That sweet potato pie sounds fantastic!

I use table salt in everything(*hides my face in shame*)...even the recipes that ask for sea salt.
I guess I should give sea salt a try and see what the big fuss is all about.

Lydia, another informative post... I hardly use table salt now, but you are right, it's really good for baking!

Kelly, the "better" salts (okay, we have to stop saying that!) are often more expensive than table salt, and I tend to use them for finishing also. I use kosher salt as my everyday salt, except for baking. And I feel like I can really taste the iodine, so I use the non-iodized table salt. (This is my justification for having so many salts in my pantry!)

Callipygia, I chose love, too. And chocolate.

Amy, I keep my table salt deep in the pantry, so when I'm salting water I tend to reach for the kosher salt that is always close at hand.

Nabeela, you definitely should try some sea salt -- and you can buy some and share with a friend until you decide if you like it enough to get a tin (or bag) of your own.

Anh, thank you.

Very informative. I've often wondered about the whole baking thing and table salt. Thanks for the education :)

Well, good to know. I´m not sure I dare have table salt in the house, though. My father used to work in a company that sold sea salt, and he´d flip if he saw me using this stuff.

You've been blogged for the Make Me Smile Award. Congratulations!

I love reading about the chemistry of cooking/baking. Guess that's one reason why Alton Brown is so popular. Thanks for some interesting info!

I'm actually quite late in knowing all kinds of salt. Back home in Asia, I think we only knew table salt. After I came here, I started using Kosher salt and learn about other kinds of salt.

I had a laugh with that trivia, Lydia. :)

Kristen, glad to help -- the whole salt and baking thing is confusing to me, too.

Lobster, I'll bet you always had wonderful salt in the house when you were growing up! My father was an electrical engineer, so the only things we had were spools of wire.

Cathy, that makes me smile! Thanks.

Sherry, Alton is the king of food trivia. I've learned so much from his show and his books.

Tigerfish, we always had kosher salt in the house, but I've only been experimenting with sea salts recently, and I really love them.

Patricia, me too. (The answer IS chocolate, right???!)

I'm a big fan of sweet potato pie and this is definitely the season for it. :-)

Another favorite of mine (I think I might have posted it...if not, I should): sweet potato pecan pie--its practically two pies for the price of one! *drool*

Wonderful information about iodine, I'm sort of wondering why sea salt isn't a rich enough source and needs fortifying. I very much like your idea of leaving the salt label in the jar, bet that's saved the odd cake or two!

Mike, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Your sweet potato pecan pie sounds wonderfully decadent!

Neil, I always leave labels in the jars for salt, sugar, flour and rice -- oh, and cocoa powder, so I know if it's Dutched or not. I don't think that sea salt is iodine deficient -- but table salt, which is mass manufactured, was a better distribution vehicle for iodine as an additive because it was the salt most widely available in the 1920s. This was really a very clever idea, to distribute iodine through something everyone already used. Sea salts may have been more popular in Europe, but in the US, where iodized salt was developed, table salt was the primary cooking salt.

Sweet potato pie is my all time favorite..I bake the potatoes as I also do w/ pumkin for pumpkin pie. In place of brown sugar I use real molasses. When serving sweet potatoes, not too much can go wrong to complain about, except if you don't cook enough.

Gino, that sounds delicious!

Sandi, thank you!!

I've not tried sweet potato pie either, have read about it though! =)

Kelly-Jane, this is a very American dish. You can make it with canned squash or pumpkin, as well as sweet potato. It's a traditional Thanksgiving favorite here in New England.

Love the blog. Just to let you know that your table salt IS kosher, even if it isn't the Coarse Kosher Salt. See the list of kosher Morton brand salts at
http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/professional/ukd
PS-Love sweet potato pie with just potatoes and fresh squeezed lemon juice!

Table salt is good for the "fine" grains that it provides, but I'm surprised that people are seeing iodine deficiencies due to switching out to non iodized salts - there should be more than enough iodine in other foods (mostly sea-related as well).

Anyways - good recipe and info!

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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