We won’t shame anyone for buying a ready-made pie for Thanksgiving: You may not have time, skills or confidence to make your own. We’ve all been there.
Still, if you have to dash through a supermarket and grab a pie, which one will keep you from hiding behind the whipped topping container from embarrassment?
Last year, we did a tasting of pumpkin pies from six stores (Costco, Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, Publix, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods), using a team of staff members. From best to worst, the result shook out like this: Fresh Market, Costco, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s and Publix.
This year, we repeated the tasting, this time with sweet potato pies from Food Lion, Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, Publix, Whole Foods, and Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie carried at Walmart.
The pies were bought on the same morning, transported in a cooler with ice packs, then refrigerated until an hour before the testing, when all the pies were allowed to come to room temperature. Our six taste-testers weren’t told which pie was which until after the tasting.
One thing we learned: It’s harder to find a good supermarket sweet potato pie than a good pumpkin one. All the pies were a little disappointing. Only a couple tasted enough like sweet potato to separate them from pumpkin, and several covered up bland flavor with overwhelming nutmeg or allspice.
Said one taster: “If I was at a party and took a bite, I’d have to put them all back.”
And while that Patti LaBelle pie might have inspired a viral video rave last year, it didn’t get the same reaction from our team.
Here are our results, from best to worst:
1. Whole Foods, 9-inch pie, $9.99. Noticeably higher filling than the others, it had deep orange color, a moist, creamy filling and a good balance of sweetness and spice. “Some tender loving care went into this one.”
2. Harris Teeter, 8-inch pie, $6.99 ($4.99 with a VIC card). The crust suffered from a fake-shortening taste, but the filling had strong sweet potato flavor and smooth texture.
3. Publix, 8-inch pie, $4.99. The crust was OK, with a little crispiness, but tasters dinged it for being too spicy, with a watery filling. “Hope no one brings this one to the potluck.”
4. Fresh Market, $9.99 for a 10-inch pie. The winner in pumpkin didn’t fare as well with sweet potato. While one taster liked the slight lemon flavor, others thought the allspice was overwhelming and the texture was mushy.
5. Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie, 8-inch pie, $3.27. Sorry, we can’t sing its praises. Neon orange with an heavy taste of nutmeg, it had an artificial flavor. “Tastes like a sweet-potato pie candle smells.”
6. Food Lion. The color was muddy, the filling was gummy and gelatinous, and the flavor was a mix of sour and sweet. “Looks harmless, but tastes wrong.”