Classic Sweet Potato Casserole

Ah, tradition.  I am firm believer.  For the past fifteen years, I have been fortunate enough to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in one of the prettiest towns in the north, with my favorite people on Earth, chez ma tante et mon oncle.  My happiest moment each year, quite possibly, is hitting the road on Wednesday afternoon with all the sweet anticipation of fun and cozy Christmas cheer, my own private Norman Rockwell painting if you will.

Of course, there is tradition within tradition.  There’s the afternoon appetizer spread, complete with numerous fiesta dips and spreads, various incarnations of the almighty cheese and cracker, and steamed shrimp.  Nothing fancy, oh no, as one wouldn’t want to fill up on lunch before the big meal (though one inevitably does!).

Lately, Mother Nature, or perhaps la niña, has been providing her own unsettling traditionFor the second year in a row, Thanksgiving Day has been downright balmy.  Gone are the days of the determined and somewhat dangerous drive through the snow belt.  We sat on the porch Thanksgiving night in tee shirts, north of the 45th parallel no less. It’s a weird feeling but provides for a lovely Thanksgiving walk through the deserted town.  I think this aspect of the day may indeed be the new tradition.

As you can see, there’s art.

There’s a cleverly named bar.

And a New England-ish church.

There’s a harbor, the town’s namesake, that I in error thought would have boats when I innocently announced “I’m going down to take pictures of the boats.”  Nobody said anything. The warm temps and sunny skies had us all confused, I suppose.

There’s a general all-around, and contrary to the frenetic pace of that other holiday, hushed, charm.

And lest I forget this enchanting little library.  When I asked Aunt B if she uses it, she hastily replied “No. I went once and the old ladies working there were cranky and rude. Plus it’s not a real library.”  Hey, even paradise isn’t perfect.

And then there’s the bluff, where the high school sits, and where I like to imagine my Uncle G happily teaching math, with a view, but then I remember that he taught at the middle school.  Oh well, one can dream.

This must have been the calm before the storm.  The very next day there was snow and gale force winds that, for many locals, evoked memories of the day “the Edmund Fitzgerald went down”.  Did I really hear Aunt B having that conversation with a local shopkeeper? Wow.

I’ve been coming here all my life, but only lately am I realizing that I am indeed a lucky girl.

And my family is lucky that I bring this classic dish every year.  I thought about bringing something a little more modern, since I read food blogs and Bon Appétit, such as this obsession-worthy french butternut squash casserole. In the end, fearing revolt, I stuck with old faithful.  It’s curious, though, that until the mid-90’s this dish was unknown to me.  It was served at my ex’s family Thanksgiving, where I cornered his aunt and demanded her recipe.  Later I was describing its virtues to one of my first foodie friends when he interrupted with a chuckle, “does it have marshmallows on top?”.  Oh.  My family holidays never included this sweet bomb of a side.  Now they do.  I’ve progressed a bit in my journey and now serve the Cooking Light version.  Other than the omission of butter, however, I’m hard-pressed to figure out how it’s light.

Makes 14 small servings.  From Cooking Light.

This dish takes well to tinkering.  Next year, I may reduce the sugar and/or substitute maple syrup.  Ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg would go well.  I might even be tempted to add a dash of cayenne.  For a lower calorie count, whole milk would probably work just as well as the half-and-half.  The egg yolks could also be removed without affecting the taste much.

For the purée

  • 5 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

For the topping

  • 1 1/2 cups mini-marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 8 oz. package chopped pecans, (toasted, but I never bother)

The potatoes can be made the night before and refrigerated.

1. Place whole potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer, about 30 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the largest potato with a fork.  Drain and cool until you can handle them.

2.  Remove skins with a fork and your hands.  They will peel off quite easily once cooked through.  For me, this a major time-saving step (rather than peeling in advance and boiling chunks of potato).

3. Place in a large bowl, along with the rest of the purée ingredients. Mix on medium speed until smooth. Place in a casserole dish coated with cooking spray.  At this point you can refrigerate overnight, or continue with the topping.

4. If your butter is not well-chilled, place in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Cut into small pieces.

5. Add butter to the flour, brown sugar and salt mixture and cut with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized crumbles form.

6.  Top potatoes with marshmallows, topping and pecans and bake at 375° or until brown and bubbly (about 30 minutes).

I almost forgot the final, and perhaps most important, tradition–a Saturday pilgrimage with my mom for our biannual Whitefish Sandwich. It’s heaven on a bun.

Now those are some good eats.

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About Liza M.

foodie, francophile, Ann Arborite, teacher, bookworm and self-professed latte-lover--come cook with me!
This entry was posted in sides, vegetarian and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Classic Sweet Potato Casserole

  1. Tracy says:

    Beautiful pictures, and what a nice piece on my home town of Harbor Springs. I love our family traditions and love your sweet potato casserole, our thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without it!

  2. Megan says:

    Ahh tradition. Love it. Love this post. Love sweet potatoes. (You really didn’t do that as a kid? Huh.) Love it all. Happy Season of Warm & Cozy.

  3. Vacation says:

    Love the pictures and the post. I would be surprised if the librarians there were crankier than ours, but I don’t let it stop me. 🙂

  4. Delinda Bonkosky says:

    Love your sweet potato casserole! I truly enjoy when we are all together for the holidays. Beautiful pictures of Harbor Springs.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Love Harbor Springs – it’s one of my favorite places!

  6. Pat says:

    Forget the food. Do a travel journal. Your photographs and commentary are delightful.

  7. Wendy says:

    I have always been a fan of the sweet potato casserole and make it every year for my Thanksgiving feast…and yes, I always include mini marshmallows even if I can imagine foodies shaking their heads as I do it. Lovely pictures, beautiful blue skies! And the librarians in my district can be a bit cranky as well…seriously, what is that all about?;)

  8. megtraveling says:

    What a beautiful place – it’s picture perfect!

  9. Sara Louise says:

    1. That appetizer spread is phenomenal. Truly.
    2. I don’t like sweet potatoes. It’s terribly un-American of me, I know.
    2. That whitefish sandwich needs to get in my belly!

  10. Liza M. says:

    Ha ha! So funny…well Classic Sweet Potato Casserole certainly isn’t for everyone. I get it though. I’m un-American in my dislike of popcorn.

  11. La Torontoise says:

    Liza, love these pictures. Especially, the boat-less harbour.

  12. La Torontoise says:

    Dear Liza and all,
    I wish you a merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year full of all those things that matter most to you!

    Liza, reading your blog and sharing the interest in all things French and the passion for food made a difference to my hectic life.

    I’m headed to Nice this Sunday and would write from there.
    All the best, M.

  13. La Torontoise says:

    Liza, wishing you a healthy and happy 2013! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas?
    All the best from the South of France, m.

    • Liza M. says:

      Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee to you as well! New Year’s resolution…getting back to the blog! I’ve got some great recipes lined up. Just taking a short break. Thanks for all the support this year.

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