A Thanksgiving Tradition

It is not often that you’ll find me talking about my experiences in the kitchen here on this blog. Well, you might find me talking about my experience in the kitchen but that is just what it is: talk. I do not go into my kitchen very often and, when I do, it is generally for something simple like coffee, milk or cereal.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the kitchen, necessarily. It’s mostly a consequence of being a bachelor. Cooking for one is about the most unrewarding task I can imagine. It’s inefficient, given that you can produce a meal for three or four using the same amount of effort and the same number of dishes as you do when cooking for one. Sure, I know some singleton’s that really enjoy themselves in the kitchen and find it to be relaxing and enjoyable. I am just not one of those people.

Thanksgiving is typically the one time of year in which you might find me in the kitchen doing something more complex than scrambling an egg or frying up bacon (two things of which I am mightily capable.) The reason behind this is that there are typically an assortment of pot luck affairs to attend and I find myself shamed into doing something more than bringing some form of frozen desert.

But, also, I really enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, really enjoy it. If I can, I will enjoy it many times before and many times after the actual Thanksgiving holiday. In the past week, for example, I made a special trip to Boston Market for a turkey dinner with all the sides and I took advantage of the turkey luncheon at work. It’s like practicing for actual Thanksgiving.

In that vein, I have another practice session to attend tonight. A couple of my very good friends are hosting an early Thanksgiving potluck tonight and I’m preparing the one dish of which I’m capable: sweet potato casserole.

At least, sweet potato casserole is what my mother calls it. The rest of the family refers to the recipe as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”. The recipe entered Stafford family lore way back when I was in high school. High school was when the Stafford children began to invite various and sundry sweethearts to Thanksgiving dinner at Che Casa Stafford. Being steeped in Southern hospitality, these sweethearts would generally bring a dish to share.

This particular dish was brought to the table by Black Sheep’s high school girlfriend, Pat, using a recipe handed down to her from her mother. (Some of you know Black Sheep as “Frankenberry”. That’s another story for another time.) It was hugely popular and, for a number of years, thrust aside the simpler and more traditional sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Ever since that day, we’ve referred to the dish as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”.

And, ever since Black Sheep and Pat broke up, mom has been trying to get us all to stop calling it that, especially since Black Sheep’s wife is not named Pat. Mother doesn’t seem to understand that, once the tradition is set, it cannot be changed. That’s why they call it “tradition”.

Anyway, it is my favorite Thanksgiving dish and it’s the only one I learned to make on my very own. It’s like sweet potato crack and I’ve never known it to be unpopular. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason I have things like measuring cups in the house. I know it’s the only reason I own a potato masher. It’s that good. I make it at least once a year but have been known to make it twice in a season. It’s good for Christmas potlucks too.

From my Mama’s cookbook: (I just noticed that my mother titled her cookbook, “Your Mama’s Cookbook”. It reminds me of endless “Your Mama” jokes. I snicker at my own wit.)

    “Sweet Potato Casserole” (a.k.a. “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”)

    I have served this casserole for several years at Thanksgiving and will likely continue as long as I am able, as no one will allow me to change the menu. Double the recipe for a large group.

    Boil sweet potatoes until they are easily speared with a fork (estimate 1 large potato per cup for recipe).

    Melt 2/3 cup of butter and divide it.

    Mix together the following:

    3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup evaporated milk (like Carnation or Pet)
    1 tbs.vanilla
    1/3 cup melted butter

    Pour this mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish and then mix the following:

    1/3 cup butter
    1 cup shredded coconut (I use the frozen kind)
    1 cup pecans
    1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
    1/3 cup flour

    Spread this mixture over the first and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.