We just finished Season Two of the Netflix show “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America.” What an excellent program.

It’s no secret that we love food and that we often see food as bridging cultures and cultural differences. The beauty of this show is that the program host, Stephen Satterfield, actually explains African-American food, culture, and tradition, and then brings in people who actually lived and experienced some of the most significant events in our collective history – events not typically taught in any sort of detail, if taught, at all.

One episode had him back in Atlanta – his hometown – and, at one point, focusing on the student activists during the Civil Rights Movement and the restaurants, cooks and bakers who helped to fund the sit-ins and demonstrations – paying for bail, etc.

Every bit of the food had me drooling – corn biscuits that looked lighter than feathers, fried chicken that I could only dream of replicating – but one that really stood out was a Bean Pie. Made from Navy Beans, it was developed by Black Muslims in the Nation of Islam in the 1930s.  It was determined that what we term Soul Foods were relics of the “slave diet” and had no part in the lives of contemporary African-Americans. Kinda the anti-Sweet Potato Pie.

The things I learn…

As luck would have it, we had a bag of dried Navy Beans in the pantry. What I didn’t know until after I made the pie, was that to be authentic, it should have had a whole wheat crust. Also, most recipes called for equal amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon, but several went for other spices, as well. I opted for cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, because, while I love nutmeg, a little goes a long way when you’re grating it fresh.

Also, some recipes called for simply mashing the beans, others called for food mills and strainers. Different textures seem to be normal. I used my Ninja blender to make it very smooth. Having never had a slice of an authentic African-American Muslim Bean Pie, I went with my own instinct and preferences.

Still learning.

But… I made a damned fine pie!


Navy Bean Pie

adapted from several internet recipes…

  • 2 cups cooked navy beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 unbaked 10″ pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place beans and evaporated milk in blender and process until very smooth. Add butter and mix, then add remaining ingredients and process until creamy.

Pour into unbaked crust and bake 60-75 minutes. Top should be well-browned and center still slightly jiggly.


It’s a really damned fine pie!

Silky-smooth, rich, flavorful – everything one could want in a slice of pie. Again, I don’t know just how smooth the pie would be, but I do believe that if people had tools like the blenders we have today, they would have used them. Modernizing a recipe is not altering its history or historical significance.

The freshly grated nutmeg came through loud and clear, but was tempered by the ginger. I have my Grandmother’s nutmeg grater, which, following the theme of learning through our ancestors, is quite appropriate. Grandma was a great cook, as was my mother.



If you haven’t seen the series, I do urge you to check it out.

And make a pie.