The Great Sweet Potato Debate

imagesThis year I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner myself.  Usually our only obligation is to show up at my mom’s house with a side dish, a bottle of wine, and a couple of well behaved kids (ha!  THAT is the hard part!) but this year, my mother went and broke her hand (on purpose, perhaps, to get out of making dinner?  Hmmm.) It’s in a cast and it’s making everything difficult for her to manage.  I’m more than happy to make dinner, but it may not be up to my mother’s very high standards.  She will just have to be ok with that!  

So I was at the gym this morning with my good friend Carrie.  Carrie, the perfect hostess.  Carrie, the gourmet cook.  Carrie, who effortlessly throws a sit down Thanksgiving dinner for 25 year after year.  We started talking about Thanksgiving when she said she had this new recipe for sweet potatoes that she was going to try.. something about peeling and cubing and baking.. Huh??  In our family, we open up 3 or 4 cans of Princella sweet potatoes, cook ’em, mash ’em with butter, brown sugar, and hot milk, top ’em with marshmallows and brown them in the oven.  Sweet Jesus, they are to die for.  As I was telling her how they were done in our house, Carrie was mesmerized.  She had never eaten sweet potatoes with marshmallows.  She said something like, “Why marshmallows?”  Seriously, you have to ask?

For me, Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the time to get gourmet.  It’s not the time to pull out the cookbooks and try something new, get experimental, or worry about calories or fat content.  It’s a nostalgic time, an opportunity to make all the traditional recipes you’ve had since childhood.  But I suppose every family is different.  Personally I can’t imagine Thanksgiving dinner without sweet potatoes and marshmallows, and I’d be willing to bet that most of middle-America eats them that way.  Am I right?

How do YOU do sweet potatoes?


30 Responses

  1. And Carrie calls herself a gourmet!!! lol

  2. I love my mother-in-law’s sweet potatoes – they don’t have marshmallows, but they are delicious. I generally pick the marshmallows off anyway if someone has made the sweet potatoes that way – it’s nothing personal or snobbish, I just don’t like marshmallows.

    I agree that it’s not a time to get gourmet. My oldest sister made oyster stuffing last year and I was not a happy camper (even though I pretended I was ok with it). 🙂

  3. Well, I’m sorry to say we don’t eat them with marshmallows. I use a little brown sugar in them to sweeten them.

  4. haha! I am not the person to talk to 🙂 Because I grew up in Spain most of the traditional holiday foods still are not anything I would choose to eat. I do, because I am not going to be rude and I will even make them for our gatherings.

    Honestly though I have begged to make lasagna as a side dish and I am so excited that I get to!!!! Turkey, yams, cranberries are all okay, but I am glad they only come once a year.

    Now for your actual question, if I am going to eat yams….I’d love to have marshmallows on top NO QUESTION!! The more sugar the better for me 🙂

  5. That’s how we eat them, now, but I didn’t grow up with sweet potatoes — at all. I’ve always thought of them as a Southern Thing. But, to be honest, I thought of everything I’ve had since moving to the Deep South as a Southern Thing and I’m often wrong.

  6. Oh, Lisa. Lisa. Lisa.

    I make the world’s BEST yams, ever! Not sweet potatoes. YAMS BABY YAMS.

    The recipe:

    Boil some yams (depending on how many you cook for… usually 5 or so)

    When they are done (like a potato… you can test by the fork), drain the water and let them completely cool.

    When cooled, peel the yams.

    Slice the yams (not the long way, the short way) into one-third inch slices.

    Get a casserole dish. Spray it with PAM really good.

    Layer One: Slices of Yams – to completely cover the base.

    Layer Two: Shavings of butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper

    Layer Three: Same as Layer One

    Layer Four: Same as Layer Two

    OPTIONAL: You can put into Layer Four any goodies you like… sliced almonds, coconut is awesome and if you do coconut you can add a bit of shredded pineapple, candied walnuts… ANYTHING

    Top with one more of Layer One.

    After covering, bake casserole dish with turkey and other goodies for about 45 minutes towards the end of your cooking. When you are heating your rolls (after turkey is out)… go ahead and add those marshmellows and let them lightly brown and melt away.

    Note: Due to the fact that I, too, have a kid who doesn’t like marshmellows (wierd, I know)… I set aside a YAM or two. I put in a small dish and make the same was as above – lighter on the spices and no marshmellows…. but, more butter. BTW: The more butter in between the layers, the BETTER!

    Dude, once you eat them this way… YOU WILL NEVER go back to canned. It’s almost like the difference between real mashed potatoes and instant. Like, instant is good… but the reall one is so much better. Same as YAMS. I am FAMOUS FOR my YAMS.

    Let me know if the recipe was confusing. I highly recommend it.

  7. When I was a kid we’d go to my grandparents every year for Thanksgiving. The sweet potatoes always had marshmallows. And there was always fried okra and butter beans (we’re a southern family) and green beans that had cooked all day in bacon grease.

    For the past 10 years or so my mom has made Thanksgiving dinner for just our immediate family. Since no one had strong feelings about the sweet potatoes, my mom cut them from the menu. However, my brother and I long ago threatened to boycott Thanksgiving if there was no corn casserole.

  8. Ha ha, guess I was wrong!! I just ASSumed every average Joe in America ate sweet potatoes the same way. I really thought my friend was a little kooky.

    Nancy, I grew up in Michigan, the frozen north. Peeps eat sweet potatoes up there, too!

    Sheri, ok I will admit that that sounds really delicious, but because I am not allowed to mess with Thanksgiving dinner (seriously- ask my mother) I will have to try them out another time. Maybe Christmas eve, with a nice honey-baked ham. Yeah, that sounds perfect!! There are far less rules about Christmas dinner than Thanksgiving.

    Jill.. here’s a stupid question- what is corn casserole? If it’s good enough to boycott Thanksgiving if you don’t get some, I need to know how it’s done! Can you share?

  9. Sweet potatoes with marshmellows! But that’s not really the answer ~ the answer is that Thanksgiving should be more about family than impressing. Of course, if someone wants to cook me a meal like Carrie would, I would not complain! But take it from the lady who’s mother-in-law is so stuck on tradition that she wants to have Thanksgiving at my house this year even though I am due to give birth that day because we have it at my house every year ~ relax and enjoy the holidays! Don’t stress over being the perfect family and following all the traditions. The tradition should be that you are together, not that the sweet potatoes have marshmellows or are gourmet!

  10. Marshmallows all the way! But we use the real sweet potato not canned. They are so sweet!

  11. Corn casserole involves eggs, green chilies, corn and a ridiculous amount of cheese. There is nothing remotely healthy about it, so it’s perfect for Thanksgiving! Or Christmas.

    I’ll have to get the recipe from my mom. Stay tuned…

  12. Mine are not out of the can, although I’ve had the canned variety and they aren’t too bad.

    Mine are mashed with butter, half and half, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and then rimmed. I repeat.. RIMMED with marshmallows because my kids adore them. I find that if I cover the entire thing with marshmallows it’s just too much “marsh” for me.

    One year I also added sugared pecans. die for. You are right though. Thanksgiving is not the day to try any new recipes unless you don’t mind failing should it not come out the way you want to.

  13. I don’t make sweet potatoes myself. But I love them with marshmallows, my mouth waters with the thought. Yum

  14. At first, I thought you were trying to spark a yam vs. sweet potato debate. I can take ’em or leave ’em with or without marshmallows. Not a traditional dish for us – the triumvirate must haves are turkey/mashed potatoes/green bean casserole.

  15. I hate sweet potatoes.

  16. My family must have marshmallows! I cook fresh sweet potatoes all year around but unless they have marshmallows on them I am the only one eating them. I really don’t think my family knows what is actually under the marshmallows all they know is that it is sweet and yummy!

  17. Apologies to Sher. (I’m kidding here, okay!)

    But I make the best sweet potatoes. EVAH!!!!

    Roast sweet potatoes in oven a long time. They become so sweet.

    Mash with sugar, milk, eggs, salt, butter, vanilla.

    Top with chopped pecans mixed with brown sugar, flour, butter.


    Last year I got the ‘best sweet potatoes I ever tasted’ comment.

    I wouldn’t use canned sweet potatoes. But I’m sort of a food snob.

  18. I love sweet potatoes and will eat them any way I can get them, except canned. (And I’ll make an exception there if they’re mashed with plenty of honey and brown sugar.)

    My sister does a wonderful mashed sweet potato dish that involves orange juice and dried cranberries. Yum!

  19. I’m pretty sure they were fixed that way with the marshmallows at most Thanksgiving meals but I never ate them, didn’t like ’em. Go figure. Loved the mashed potatoes though, as long as there was lots of butter!

    The past few years I’ve discovered roasted sweet potatoes are just heavenly. Sometimes I slice them in half and put a little olive oil on the cut side and lay it on top of a sprig of rosemary in a baking dish. Bake till tender. Yum. (has to be the darker ones though – garnets are the best!)

  20. When we were Californians we did them with marshmallows, and I didn’t know there was any other way! Now that we’re Canadians, and that I have in-laws, I’ve had them done up and down and all over, most sucessfully mashed and heavily cheesed. That, however, is a dish of a different color.

  21. you know, my mom (and my grandma) always made sweet potatoes (what Americans call yams are just another kind of sweet potato, btw) in an electric griddle with brown sugar and butter (and maybe some corn syrup…?). this year, in charge of my own feast and without access to my kitchen stuff and using a friend’s kitchen, I decided to just wash the sweet potatoes, slather them with butter (on the skins), wrap them in foil and bake them.

    yummy and healthier. 🙂

  22. We used to do them your way, when I was a kid, but I always refused to eat them because I hate marshmallows. Now my family has gone health-nut, so we cut them up and serve them baked with cranberries and walnuts. It’s still a little sweet for me (I prefer them plain and steamed) but I do enjoy this dish once a year.

  23. I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner for the last few years and have to honestly say that I’ve never tried the sweet potato/marshmallow thing – although I do remember having green bean casserole a few times.

  24. Reading all the comments caused me to wonder about the whole sweet potato vs yams question. I was raised to call them yams but always thought they were the same as sweet potato. So a little search lead me to The Library of Congress, yes I guess it is a great debate of national prominence. For those inquiring minds like mine it turns out that sweet potatoes are not even “botanically related” to yams and that yams are only really found in Africa and Asia so unless you are buying yours at the international market (where is that) then you are eatin a sweet potato. Then the question is “firm vs soft” and I quess the soft variety is what was confused with yams due to the African slave…okay it’s getting bit lengthy so if you are doubtful or dying to know more log onto will answer all your questions. As for my family it was “yams” out of the can (all of our veggies use to be out of a can) covered with a sauce of butter and brown sugar, sprinkled with nuts and baked with lots of yummy marshmallows on top! It’s nice to know we all cherish those family traditions and try to keep them going.

  25. Tara… actually, that does sound really good! I will try it some time..seriously, I will!

  26. Marshmallows are key! We put them on everything at Thanksgiving! Turkey stuffed with marshmallows, green beans and marshmallows, marshmallow pie . . . and what the heck do you top your hot chocolate with, if not . . . marshmallows!

    I heart marshmallows! I’m a card carrying member of the Marshmallow Association of Greater Philadelphia.

    I need to go back to sleep. My mind has snapped.

  27. We don’t do sweet potatoes in our house. Actually, growing up my mom didn’t either. Hubby and I do tend to try a couple of new things every Thanksgiving.
    This year we are going to have a feast as usual. My dishes are Pecan and Cornbread Stuffing (new), Popovers, Paula Deen’s Pumpkin Pie (a mix of pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake), an Italian giant, crumbly cookie (new) to eat with grapes and wine after the meal, and possible corn chowder. Hubby is making the turkey, his stuffing that goes in the turkey (which I don’t like so we make two kinds), corn on the cob (new), green bean casserole, gravy, mashed spuds and I think that will be it.
    YUMMY YUM YUM!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Happy Thanksgiving Lisa!!!!

  28. Sher, thanks! Yours sound amazing as well – I love the idea of coconut!

  29. We’re taking a different approach to the Thanksgiving meal this year–while one of my daughters and i were discussing “what can we make that’s easy” she came up with casseroles. She was thinking comfort foods, but i took a leap to a 1950s era meal–casseroles, a Jello mold, some early 1900s desserts…and i’ll be wearing my best apron and pearls. (High heels optional.) 😉

  30. Late to the party with this post, but I made the most scrumptious sweet potatoes this year. Got away from the marshmallows because we were trying to be “healthy,” haha, so I washed whole sweet potatoes and rolled them in kosher salt, wrapped in foil and baked them like baked potatoes. When soft, I unwrapped them, sliced them in half, placed the half smush side up in a casserole dish, covered those suckers in butter and brown sugar (that’s the healthy part, right?) and OH MY but they were to die for.

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