Thanksgiving: Those sweet potatoes. November 25, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: mashed potatoes, Ruby Ann Boxcar, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato souffle, sweet potatoes, Thanksgiving potatoes
Silence Dogood here. One of the more bizarre Thanksgiving traditions in my view is the sweet potato casserole. Like so many of the foods served at Thanksgiving—turkey, pumpkins, green beans, cranberries, and corn leap to mind—sweet potatoes are a New World food (they’re native to South America), so putting them on the table is completely appropriate. Besides, our friend Ben and I love sweet potatoes. So what’s my problem?
We’re getting to that. First, a little history: In my family (and in OFB’s), you baked sweet potatoes until they were so well done that the flesh literally separated from the skin with no help from you once you split them open. You added liberal amounts of butter, salt, and (if you liked it) black or white pepper, plunged in your fork, and sent your tastebuds soaring to sweet potato heaven.
If you’ve never had a good baked sweet potato, here’s the foolproof method: Choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that are long and comparatively thin versus short and stout. Wash but don’t dry the sweet potatoes, place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet to prevent drippings from ruining your oven, and puncture the top of each sweet potato with a fork every inch or so to let the steam escape so the sweet potatoes won’t explode while they’re cooking. (A very bad idea.) Bake at 375 degrees F for an hour or at 350 for an hour and a half, or until you can see dark brown caramelized goo oozing out of the puncture holes and the potatoes are completely soft to the touch. (If you’ve ever eaten—or tried to eat—an underdone sweet potato, you’ll understand the importance of letting them cook as long as it takes. Trust me on this.) Remove the well-done sweet potatoes from the oven, split them with a knife, and you’re good to go. Note: Dogs, parrots, and chickens love the cooled skins, escpecially if there are traces of sweet potato, butter, and salt left on them.
Sweet potatoes cooked like this are so incredibly delicious that it’s hard to imagine improving on them. OFB and I love them with rice, broccoli, and a huge tossed salad, or with creamy pasta, green beans (or mixed green and yellow wax beans in season), and salad. They’re a natural with chicken, or, of course, turkey, and they go oh so well with cranberry sauce. But there is one sweet potato dish that we love as much, and maybe more. It’s a specialty of a local country inn, the Landis Store Hotel, and they were generous enough to post the recipe on their website so fans like us could enjoy it even when it’s not on the menu. Check this out:
Landis Store’s Sweet Potato Souffle
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup cream
Peel and boil sweet potatoes until they’re soft. Drain sweet potatoes and put in a food processor, adding salt, butter, cream, and egg. Add salt and pepper to taste and bake in six individual buttered ramekins or souffle dishes at 350 degrees F until the tops are light brown. Serve piping hot. [Note: Because Landis Store is a restaurant, they always make their sweet potato souffle in individual serving dishes. If I were making it, I’d put it all into one big souffle dish instead.—Silence]
Let’s get back to why I have a problem with sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. If someone served up well baked and buttered sweet potatoes, or sweet potato souffle, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem. In fact, I’d be the first in line. It’s the idea of turning sweet potatoes (often from a can) into a substrate for marshmallows that floors me. Eeeeewww!!!! Who ever thought of this?! How could anyone eat it, and why would they want to? Aren’t sweet potatoes sweet enough without globbing a bunch of marshmallows on top?!!
Some people have accused this casserole of being a white trash concoction. So while I was researching it, I headed straight for the source of all things trailer-park trashy, the totally hilarious Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Holiday Cookbook by one of our heroes, the immortal Ruby Ann Boxcar. Now, you know when a book’s back cover begins with “Decorate the panelin’ and pile on the hair spray… It’s time to celebrate the holidays—trailer park style!” that we’re not talking about your ordinary cookbook. (“Don’t let Elvis’s birthday blow past you like a Baptist in a Revival bus.”) And sure enough, Ruby Ann didn’t let me down when it came to Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. If you have to have ‘em sweet, leave the marshmallows on the store shelf and try this casserole from Ruby Ann’s mama-in-law, Momma Ballzak:
Momma Ballzak’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup margarine
2 cups Kahlua liqueur
1 cup chopped pecans
Combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and 1/2 cup margarine. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Put into a greased shallow casserole. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, 1/3 cup margarine, 1 cup of the Kahlua, and pecans. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole, and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes.Pour the remainin’ Kahlua over the casserole and cook for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.
As Ruby Ann notes, “I dare you to have two servin’s of this and then walk a straight line.” I’m quite intrigued by this recipe, I’ll admit, but if I ever decide to try it I’d substitute salted butter for that margarine, and might add a half-teaspoon of additional salt to offset the sweetness.
There are other sweet potato treats that I contemplate for the Thanksgiving season, including sweet potato cornbread and sweet potato biscuits. Try them, they’re yummy! (I’ll give you the recipes in Friday’s Frugal Living Tip, which will be about great frugal uses for Thanksgiving leftovers.) But one thing you’ll never see me making or tasting is that marshmallow-topped gunk.
One more thing while we’re on the subject of potatoes: My family always served mashed Irish potatoes rather than sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I love mashed potatoes, so I can never resist making some for the occasion. I like to boil Yukon Gold potatoes until they’re thoroughly cooked, then drain them, return the pot to the fire, turn the heat to low, and mash them skins and all, adding lots of butter, light cream or half-and-half, salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, and white or fresh-ground black pepper. I have a very heavy potato masher I inherited from my grandmother and it’s a real treasure.
Believe it or not, one of Ruby Ann’s friends at the High Chaparral Trailer Park apparently goes for mashed Yukon Golds at Thanksgiving, too. He adds butter, heavy cream, chives, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, and cream cheese to his. Hmmm. That actually sounds really good…
‘Til next time,