The reason for the dinner was entirely practical - their November farmers market turkey never got cooked this year, and a dinner party was the best way to reclaim their freezer space. Really, though, why don't we do more of this? By the time Christmas dinner rolls around, the standard dishes are already a little played out from November. And come summer, I bet I'm not the only one who could really go for some ham. Spreading the wealth seems so smart.
I had something in common with our hosts, it turned out - I never got the chance to make one of my standbys this Thanksgiving either. People freak out over this family recipe, and with good reason: it's basically butter and sugar enhanced by sweet potatoes. Add in some pecans from my grandparents' farm on top, and you have a down home masterpiece, that rare side dish that could be equally at home on the dessert table.
Don't worry about this dish's decadence, by the way - it's not meant to be eaten regularly, and certainly isn't about being healthy. My family's sweet potato casserole is about comfort, about loved ones, about tradition, and about being thankful for all three ... no matter what time of year it is.
Down Home Sweet Potato Casserole
7 cups sweet potatoes* (usually 10-12 hand-length potatoes)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup softened butter
For the topping:
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter
Bake sweet potatoes with skin at 450 for one hour. Scoop potatoes from skin. Combine potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and butter. Place in 13x9 casserole dish.
Topping: Combine brown sugar, flour, butter, pecans. Place on top of casserole.
Cover casserole with foil. Bake on low shelf at 275 for 50 minutes. (If you've made your casserole ahead of time and it's been refrigerated, cook it at 350 instead.) If you want a nice crispy topping, remove the foil and turn your broiler on for a couple of minutes (if you're not running late like I was, that is!).
*In North Carolina we grow sweet potatoes, so they're used for this dish. When I lived in New Mexico and Texas, it was easier to find yams than sweet potatoes, so I used them interchangeably, to equally delicious results.