Sunday, November 23, 2014

You can taste tradition -- and taters -- on the menu

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

(SPC, with Non-Burned Marshmallows)

Thanksgiving is our annual reminder that you can put brown sugar and butter on a hammer and it would taste good. A challenge to chew, but tasty.

We probably don’t use brown sugar enough during the year, but that’s likely a lifesaver. The good Lord might have put a Brown Sugar Switch in our brains that He can turn off on most weeks, just to keep me and you from expanding to the size of, say, Bienville Parish.

Sure is good though. And smells like the holidays. Same as pine boughs and cinnamon and cider, and the occasional tipsy elder.

Add brown sugar to sweet potatoes and you’ve got your 1-2 hitters in the Sweet Potato Casserole lineup, a star around the house this time of year. Hardly ever think of it at any other calendar time, and a candied yam I wouldn’t eat on a dare. But Sweet Potato Casserole at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Automatic. Money.

About once every three months, people contact me or see me and ask me to mail them either this blueberry pound cake recipe I wrote about years ago or a cast iron skillet corn bread recipe I wrote about one long Christmas past. Neva McKay, one of the great all-time people, taught me and Reggie Redding how to make it in Home and Family Living in 1977, when we had to take Home and Family Living as a high school-required senior elective and when Mrs. McKay had to teach us something. Silverware placement evaded us; corn bread was right in our wheelhouse.

Those recipes never disappoint. Not me, anyway.

So, in keeping with the slipshod practice of sharing a recipe twice a decade or so, here is a classic Sweet Potato Casserole (SPC) recipe. There are variations; this is pretty much what they would teach you in SPC 101. If this recipe were a football pass play, it would be a down-and-out or a down-and-in. Add more brown sugar and you’ve got a post pattern. This is as basic, yet as classic as it gets.

I prefer this particular recipe because it’s the one my mother wrote out for me, longhand, on a piece of yellow legal pager in November of 2003. The only time it failed me was when my son and I, in December of 2003, tried a too-early freelance maneuver: we added tiny marshmallows to the top and put that under the broiler instead of in the oven to bake. If you’re keeping score at home, it takes, by our estimation, about one minute for broiled marshmallows to turn black, about two minutes for them to catch fire. We know that now. Didn’t then.

Here’s the classic marshmallow-less, unburned variation:

3 cups sweet potatoes (Fresh or canned, your call. Don’t sell short the canned sweet potatoes though: I’m a Sugary Sam man.)
One-half cup sugar and one-half cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
One-third cup Pet canned milk

All you do is mash up the potatoes and mix in the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and milk. Put it into a 13 by 9-inches baking pan.

That’s the body.

But the topping is key. The topping is appropriately named because, well, it is literally but also figuratively “tops.” You could eat this stuff for dessert.

To make the topping, first pray for a steady hand and a clear mind. Then melt one-third cup butter and mix it with one cup of light brown sugar, one-half cup flour and one cup of chopped pecans, (pronounced “pee-cans,” which is tacky when you spell it out like that, so it’s best to say it instead of spell it.) Doubling the topping or increasing it by half would not be the end of the world; you might even prefer it.

Sprinkle your topping (or just sort of move it around as it’s hard to “sprinkle”) on top of the potato mixture, then bake it for 25 minutes, maybe a touch more depending on your oven, at 350 degrees. Serves 10 to 12.


Interesting how TLC, short for tender loving care, rhymes with SPC. Coincidence? The satisfied and well-fed think not.