The special Thanksgiving school lunch included roast turkey with gravy, brown rice, peaches, green salad, a square of Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie and milk.
The special Thanksgiving school lunch included roast turkey with gravy, brown rice, peaches, green salad, a square of Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie and milk.
Keolu Elementary School cafeteria manager Edita Montgomery’s Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie. (Courtesy Hawai‘i DOE)
Keolu Elementary School cafeteria manager Edita Montgomery’s Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie. (Courtesy Hawai‘i DOE)

Jodie Chiemi Ching

“Ooh, what’s that?” “Wow, sweet potato pie!”

Those were among the comments heard in the lunch line last month at Kähala Elementary School’s Thanksgiving lunch. This year, 200 public schools celebrated the holiday with a roast turkey and gravy lunch and an Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie square dessert as part of the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s ‘Aina Pono Harvest of the Month program.

In a DOE-issued news release, ‘Aina Pono: Farm to School Program coordinator Dexter Kishida of the DOE’s School Food Service Branch, said it was the first time local Okinawan sweet potatoes from the Big Island were being incorporated into student meals.

“We wanted to create a local spin-off of the traditional pumpkin pie that many enjoy during Thanksgiving.”

One of the goals of the ‘Aina Pono program is to provide opportunities for students to explore the different flavors the local community has to offer. Many of the Kähala students had never tasted an Okinawan sweet potato before, including third-graders Alex Tomasa, Levi-Michael Bird and Hi‘ilei Dunn. They all agreed that the pie was “so good!”

“It tastes like sweet potato ice cream,” said Ryan Davis.

Kähala Elementary School cafeteria manager Bradley Wong said the ‘Aina Pono Program “allows our keiki to experience new and exciting local foods, which is basically an interactive lesson in Hawaiian history and culture for them. It also encourages support for local farmers and vendors and works in accord with the ‘farm to table’ movement that has been in place in the hotel and food and beverage industries for a number of years.”

Wong said it is important for keiki to experience these local foods because they are the future of the industry. “Getting them accustomed with local products now will help to strengthen our future local economy, encourage the support for local farmers and promote self-sustainment.”

The DOE’s ‘Aina Pono: Farm to School Program strives to increase the use of local food in school meals and to connect the students with Hawai‘i’s ‘äina (land) through their food by using local agriculture. The effort is made possible through the support of farmers statewide.

The Okinawan sweet potato pie recipe was created by Keolu Elementary School cafeteria manager Edita Montgomery and her staff. They modified the recipe to enhance the pie’s flavor, accommodate mass production and meet nutritional guidelines.

Montgomery said it was important that the recipe utilize ingredients that are already available in school kitchens.

“The wheat flour that schools normally use changed the taste of the crust, so we adjusted the ingredients by modifying it after our shortbread cookie recipe to improve the flavor,” Montgomery stated in the DOE news release.

While the pie had the flavor of the Okinawan sweet potato that local people are familiar with, the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg spices that Montgomery and her staff added to the recipe gave it a Thanksgiving taste.

School lunch has come a long way since the days when it cost only 25 cents. Today, it is $2.50. The students no longer get fish patties with mushy batter, and there isn’t as much canned peaches and green beans. Today’s cafeterias use a lot more fresh and nutritious local produce — such as beef, bananas, papaya, ‘ulu (breadfruit) and pineapple, some of which can be found in our own backyards.

While the Hawai‘i DOE continues to provide better educational experiences through school lunches, students also learn a lot about food by what they eat at home.

“As a child, exposure to different types of food is highly dependent on what the child’s family members provide for them,” Kishida noted. “If students haven’t tried Okinawan sweet potatoes before, this is a chance to try something new. We’re thankful for our sponsors and community partners who make it possible to continue this program and allow our students to explore the different flavors our local agriculture community has to offer.”


(Courtesy of the ‘Aina Pono: Farm to School Program)

This recipe for the Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie has been adapted for home use by Dana Shapiro of the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative. The recipe serves 12 people.

Pie Crust Ingredients

3 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon water, as needed

Pie Filling Ingredients

1⁄2 pound Okinawan sweet potato (11⁄2 cups, mashed) 1 large egg
3⁄4 cup evaporated milk (6 ounce can)
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoons orange juice, fresh squeezed or concentrate
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch of ground cloves or nutmeg

Pie Crust

1) Mix butter and sugar on low speed until com- bined.
2) Add vanilla and increase speed to high; cream for 5 minutes.
3) Add flour, mix on low to combine. Do not over mix. Add water as needed to bring dough together.
4) Lightly coat pan with cooking oil spray or butter.
5) Spread and flatten dough directly in 9-inch cake pan or pie tin. Note that the dough will be soft and delicate and should not be overworked. Dock crust by poking dough several times with a fork.
6) Bake at 375°F in middle rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Edge of crust should appear light brown in color.

Pie Filling

1) Steam, peel and mash sweet potato by hand. Use mixer on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes until very smooth and free from lumps.
2) Add eggs, milk, butter, salt, brown sugar, flour, orange juice, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Mix on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes until smooth and well blended.
3) Pour pie filling into crust.
4) Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, reduce to 375°F for 15 minutes until inserted knife comes out clean.
5) Cool and enjoy.


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