When I was little, holidays were filled with multiple meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We were lucky to have such a large family close by and I had lots of cousins to enjoy those special memories with. Each year, we would get up and head to my great-aunt Bee’s for a noon feast. She had tables all lined up and set for a crowd and we came ready to eat! Of course, we always snuck a few pre meal snacks from her cookie and candy stash. These goodies were normally kept in her mint green wall oven as storage, but on the holidays those ovens were working overtime keeping stuff warm. The homemade pies, salads, and desserts were kept cold in the breezeway (which was a little enclosed walkway connecting the house and garage) until mealtime.
Let me tell you about the meal! There was always a huge turkey. The biggest they could find. I remember one year, that bird just wouldn’t cook and they had to carve it and microwave sections at the last-minute. There were dishes that were a staple and could not be missing. The carrot salad, the Kentucky Wonders, the Jell-O salads and fluff, the cherry delight and chocolate delight desserts. But what was more important than any tasty dish, was the people at the meal. It was my family, my dad’s cousin’s family, other cousins of cousins and usually a few extras. One special extra was miss Ilo. Ilo had become part of the family and spent the holidays with us. Each year, my dad would go pick her up and bring her to the meal. I could have a whole blog about the life of Ilo. She was a special lady and quite a character. Picture Aunt Bethany from Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. As kids, we loved seeing her and hearing her hearty infectious laugh, but also we were a little mischievous and sometimes loved to pull pranks on her. One year, one of us kids decided it would be a hoot to put some birdseed in a bowl and set it on the table and pass it around, along with all the other dishes. We eagerly waited until it came time to pass the dishes and giggled as sweet Ilo began to spoon the birdseed onto her plate, right beside the stuffing and mashed potatoes. Someone stopped her and the cat was out of the bag, but we thought we were so funny!
One of the dishes that I would always pass on as a kid was the candied yams. No amount of marshmallows could make me like them. But, one dish that my sister-in-law introduced to our family several years ago changed my view on sweet potatoes. It’s the yummy Sweet Potato Casserole! I can’t get enough of this stuff and I have to limit it to a holiday treat, or I’d be in trouble and eat way too much!
I’ve posted it before, but it’s been a while and it’s one of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions that is a must.
I know it’s a little late today for telling you about Thanksgiving recipes, but maybe you can keep it in mind for Christmas or New Year’s, or really anytime as a special side dish treat! Or maybe there’s still time if your big feast is not until later.
It takes pretty basic ingredients that you probably have on hand. As I’ve shared before, one thing that is so great about this recipe is that it can be made in advance.
This is very helpful when you’ve got limited time and the clock is ticking on getting all the essential dishes prepared.
You just want to keep the topping separate and sprinkle it on right before baking, otherwise you will miss out on the toasted sweet texture from the crumbly topping. Over the years, I’ve cut down on the sugar in the recipe since the sweet potatoes are so sweet all on their own and the topping is very sweet.
Sweet Potato Casserole
3-6 C mashed sweet potatoes (I used just over 6 C because I wanted a nice deep casserole).
3/4 C Sugar (I cut this down to 1/4 C)
1/2 C milk
1/4 C butter – softened
1 – 2 teas vanilla
1 teas salt
Topping: If you’re like me and like a lot of topping: double the recipe below for extra topping!
1 C light brown sugar – packed
1/2 C flour
4 TBS cold butter cut into small pieces
optional – 1/2 – 1 C chopped pecans
Rinse your sweet potatoes, pierce each one a couple of times with knife and bake them (unpeeled) in a 400°F degree oven on a pan for 45-60 minutes just until tender.
As the sugar escapes out of the baking sweet potatoes onto the pan, it will burn and smell a little bit. Don’t worry, this will not harm the flavor of the casserole. Just watch and check them and remove them when tender all the way through.
Let the potatoes cool. You can slice them in half and scoop out the cooked potato into a bowl or dish and cover and refrigerate if making in advance. This is what I do.
Combine the potatoes with the sugar, milk, softened butter, vanilla, eggs, and salt in a large bowl. Use a hand mixer or your muscles and a good whisk and mix this thoroughly until smooth.
Scoop this into a greased 9 x 13 oven safe pan and spread until smooth. At this point, you can either cover and refrigerate if needing to make in advance.
Combine brown sugar, flour, pecans (if using), and cold butter into a bowl and work with hands, pastry cutter, or a fork to combine to make a crumb like topping.
I just sprinkle the pecans on half of the casserole, since our daughter has a tree nut allergy.
If making in advance, you can make the topping in advance and store in bag or bowl in fridge, but just do not sprinkle on top of casserole until just before baking. Otherwise some of the goodness settles down into the sweet potato layer and you are jipped out of some of that good topping.
Just before baking, sprinkle the topping over the sweet potato mixture.
Bake uncovered at 325°F degrees for 45-55 minutes until golden brown.
This stays pretty hot after baking and that yummy crunchy topping helps hold that heat in, as my husband learned again this year after he took a big bite and burnt his mouth! So you can let it rest on the counter for a few minutes as you finish up other dishes before your meal and don’t worry, it will be nice and warm.