For Patti LaBelle, Cooking Is a Family Tradition

This legendary singing star makes desserts to sing about.

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Posted in , Oct 15, 2021

Patti LaBelle. Photo by Whitney Thomas

Ever since I was a girl belting out hymns in Philadelphia’s Beulah Baptist Church choir, the stage has been my home. But you might be surprised to know that my second home is the kitchen. I love to cook and bake, even on the road.

I bring my own pots and pans with me on tour so I can do brisket, short ribs, smothered chicken, shrimp—you name it—for myself and my fellow singers. Just ask Elton John how good my cooking is. It’s a running joke between us that he still hasn’t returned my Tupperware!

On Christmas morning, you’ll find me chopping, measuring, mixing and stirring up a storm for our big family dinner. My granddaughters, Gia and Leyla, stay overnight at Glamma’s house (they came up with the name) on Christmas Eve. Before they’re up tearing into their stockings, I’m at the stove in my heels (nobody called Glamma cooks in slippers) getting the ham, turkey and all the trimmings ready.

My desserts are luscious—peach cobbler, red velvet cake and my trademark sweet potato pie. That recipe is in my blood.

I come from a long line of accomplished cooks. My grandmothers and aunts were all known for their down-home Southern cooking and baking. My father, Henry Holte Jr., also a great cook, was known all over Georgia for his bread pudding. I shared their stories and recipes in my first cookbook, LaBelle Cuisine, now in a twentieth-anniversary edition. But all the credit for my silky sweet potato pie goes to my mother, Bertha “Chubby” Holte.

I was five or six when she started teaching me her rules for baking this pie. And Mom had rules: Choose potatoes with smooth, unbruised skin. Buy small to medium-size potatoes; the big ones are tough. And never refrigerate your sweet potatoes. Like most Southerners, they do not like the cold. I used to wonder what Mom would say about my modern-day tip: Microwave your sweet potatoes. It’s a lot quicker than boiling them.

You may have seen my Patti’s Good Life line at Walmart and other stores. It includes this sweet potato pie. During the holidays a few years ago, a taste test went viral and got millions of views. Walmart couldn’t keep the pie on the shelves. The store had to start stocking it year-round. Sweet potato pie wasn’t just for Christmas anymore!

When I heard that, I knew my mom was looking down on me with no judgment about microwaving those potatoes. Follow my recipe and make sweet potato pie for your family, just like I make it for mine.

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