From the Ag Department: A pair of family recipes made with love

by | Dec 30, 2021

Lori Wright

Lori Wright’s Deep Dish Sweet Potato Pie

There are few things quite as tied up in happy memories as a family recipe.

For Lori Wright, NCDA&CS Plant Conservation Program Assistant, her love of baking was instilled at an early age. Born in San Francisco and raised in San Diego and Los Angeles, Wright learned to cook and bake from her mother.

“My mother was the person who cooked, who baked for us. She baked all of our birthday cakes, she baked everything for every one of the holidays,” Wright said. “She was from a poor area in Omaha, Nebraska, and they had to cook everything. That was how she learned the skills, and she passed it down to me and my brother.”

As Wright grew up, she continued to experiment with cooking, taking classes and continuing to learn from several members of her family. Meanwhile, she and her husband, a member of the U.S. Navy, traveled across the country as his duty stations changed. Eventually they found their way to North Carolina, where Wright would come to work for NCDA&CS.

Wright never lost the passion for cooking, nor did she discard the recipes she picked up from her loved ones along the way.

“My nanny would cook this huge meal for every holiday, and we always had sweet potato pies. I gravitated to my nanny when she made the pies, because she always made them sweeter than my moms,” she said with a laugh. “So the recipe for the leftover sweet potato pie is simple, because of all of the things that already went into the sweet potatoes like cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla along with the brown sugar.”

Wright’s nanny may not have even had a recipe written down, Wright said.

“I watched her add a tablespoon of this spice and then taste it, then add a little more and taste it again. I memorized what she did and would just try and make it the same way she did,” Wright said. “She was so sweet and humble in the kitchen, it was always easy to listen to her and learn from her.”

Deep Dish Sweet Potato Pie:


2 ½ cups of sweet potatoes mashed
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 deep dish pie crust
If making from scratch: 2 tablespoons each nutmeg and vanilla
Marshmallows optional


  1. This recipe used sweet potatoes from a leftover sweet potato casserole, so cinnamon and nutmeg were already included. If not already made, add two tablespoons of each to the potatoes along with regular white marshmallows if desired.
  2. Mash the sweet potatoes with a hand mixer until they are smooth.
  3. In a small pot on a stove or a microwave safe dish, add the butter and heavy cream together. Heat until butter is melted, then add the cream and butter mixture to the sweet potato filling.
  4. Let set for 10 minutes to rest before pouring it into the pie pan. Bake it for about 30-35 minutes, and then top with whipped cream before serving.
Joy Goforth

Joy Goforth’s Creamy Ham and Veggie Baked Ziti

For Joy Goforth, NCDA&CS Plant Pest Administrator, making a big meal to share with those around her is fundamentally about love.

Born in Forsyth County, Goforth grew up in a family that put a premium on being resourceful. It’s an attitude that has stuck with her as an adult, and as a lover of cooking and baking, it informs her culinary decisions as well.

“Making good use of what you have, that’s what we always did in my family. So that’s really my take on a lot of the cooking I do as well,” she said. “In my world food is love, and the way I stumbled upon this recipe was that we had a lot of leftover ham after a big family holiday get-together.”

Goforth is drawn to recipes that make a lot of food, because that allows her to share it with other people. Whether it’s a church function, a gift to someone in need or simply something to make another person happy, Goforth likes to make enough for everyone to get some of the love.

That heart for helping others isn’t just a vague idea, either. Goforth puts her culinary talents to use with the Raleigh-based non-profit Designed for Joy (no relation) which provides jobs at living wages to women coming from trafficking, homelessness, time in prison, overcoming addiction or other vulnerable situations.

“Designed for Joy pays these women a living wage to be artisans, making things like pocketbooks, jewelry, that kind of thing. The problem is, while these women may get fed at the shelter if they’re there, that might be the only meal they get in a day,” Goforth said. “Designed for Joy solicits people to bring in food for their artisans, and so since we’ve moved to the Raleigh area this has been my connection to be able to share my love through food.”

Creamy Ham and Veggie Baked Ziti


1 pound of uncooked rigatoni, ziti or penne pasta
1 teaspoon oil
1 zucchini, sliced
½ pound fresh mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Flour
¼ teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper
1 cup chicken broth
4 oz cream cheese
1 package (6 oz.) baby spinach leaves
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups shredded Mozzarella, divided
1 ½ cups diced ham


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  3. Add zucchini, mushrooms and garlic; cook and stir three to four minutes or until zucchini is tender. Add flour and seasonings, and cook for one minute while stirring.
  4. Stir in broth; cook and stir two to three minutes or until thickened. Add cream cheese and stir until melted.
  5. Drain pasta and return to pan, then add the zucchini mixture, spinach, Parmesan, ham and ½ cup mozzarella. Mix lightly.
  6. Spoon into a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray; top with remaining mozzarella. Bake 10 minutes or until mozzarella is melted and just starting to brown.