Sweet Potato Casserole
- 3 pounds cooked sweet potatoes see note
- 2 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 Tablespoons softened butter divided
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup flour
- 1 cup chopped nuts pecans are preferable, walnuts would be my second choice
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Peel and mash up the sweet potatoes.
- Mix sweet potatoes with the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the butter.
- Spread sweet potato mixture into an oven-safe dish.
- In a separate bowl, mix together remaining 4 tablespoons butter, flour, brown sugar and nuts.
- Sprinkle over the top of the sweet potato mixture.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Let rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.
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Obligatory Fictional Backstory
Everyone always talks about the first Thanksgiving, but you rarely hear anything about the second Thanksgiving, which is an absolute shame because the second Thanksgiving is when sweet potato casserole was invented. Of course, they used honey and acorns since refined cane sugar and pecans weren’t widely available at that time, but the concept was the same.
It had been a good year for the sweet potato crop, but the settlers were tired of eating them raw like carrots or roasted plain over coals. They needed something to disguise the lingering flavor of ash after roasting. Luckily (or unluckily depending on which settler you were), one of the settlers wandered smack into a beehive while foraging for acorns. Several hundred welts later, they had honey.
An enterprising woman, who happened to be my great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- grandmother, decided that the honey would cover the ash taste of the sweet potatoes quite nicely and that the acorns would add a delightful contrasting crunch. Voila, sweet potato casserole was born!
I am already in Thanksgiving planning mode! Like many people I am ready for this year to be OVER. The first time I made a sweet potato casserole I almost gagged from the sweetness. The recipe I used called for TWO CUPS OF SUGAR. I don’t think I even used the recommended amount and I still got diabetes. Thankfully that has resolved. I mean, sweet potatoes are already sweet. Like it’s literally in their name. Plus I wanted this to serve as a side dish (or breakfast) not a dessert. So I worked on it. Half a cup was about the lowest I could get it and still have a good crunch to the topping.
Why marshmallows??? Why on earth??? I looked to All About Sweet Potatoes for the answer:
“Many people outside of the USA, and within, wonder why anyone would want to “mess up” naturally sweet perfect sweet potatoes by putting marshmallows on them or in them.
While others wouldn’t dare make a marshmallow sweet potatoes dish, my family, with its mid-atlantic/southeastern roots, has eaten them that way for many decades. One of the most requested side dishes for special occasions and holiday meals is a pecan sweet potato casserole topped with those “oh so familiar” toasted white lumps with melted gooey centers.
We love that burst of sugary sweetness on top of more sweetness. It satisfies our “sweet tooth”, and we never have any leftovers.
But, why do I and others combine marshmallows with sweet potatoes? I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory that draws from the concept of “supply and demand”, coupled with great marketing and promotion. You see, at one time, marshmallows were hard to get. As they became more readily available, they were still considered a special treat, and were used to “dress up” dishes and desserts made with staple ingredients. So, by topping a staple vegetable like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, home chefs were able to make a “special dish” for their families.
Marshmallow candies have been around since about 2000 B.C. when the ancient Egyptians, combining the root’s sweet sap with honey, made them for their gods and the Pharoahs. Up until the mid to late 1800’s only the wealthy could afford them because the manufacturing process was slow, expensive and costly: the candies were hand-made. Marshmallows weren’t mass-produced until about 1900 when a faster less expensive manufacturing process, the “starch mogul system” which was invented in the late 1800’s, became available.
Sweet potatoes with marshmallows is a tradition that some believe started in the 1920’s and 30’s when, what had been a treat accessible only to the wealthy, became a massed-produced staple ingredient that could be used for cakes, desserts, candies, salads and side dishes prepared by everyone for family gatherings, special occasions and parties. During the same time, people started to top off their hot cocoa with marshmallows, and they roasted them around campfires and at cookouts.”
Well. I still don’t like marshmallows with my sweet potatoes. Marshmallows belong in s’mores or hot chocolate.