Thanksgiving: The best sweet potato casserole recipe on the planet

Before you head out this weekend to get what you need for Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted you to see this. It’s from Maura, who used to blog at 36×37.

Maura gave herself 365 days to do 36 things she’d never done, all before her 37th birthday. No. 1 was start a blog. Once she’d accomplished Nos. 35 and 36 — planting a tree and death by chocolate — she retired. I wish she hadn’t, because she’s a good writer, and I miss reading her.

I was honored to serve as a guest blogger for Maura once, and she’s agreed to return the favor by letting me reprint her post about lucking into the best sweet potato casserole recipe on the planet

Seriously, you have to try this.

~*~

For the past four or so years, I’ve served the absolute best sweet potato casserole at holiday gatherings. It’s not an heirloom recipe like all the others in my rotation. And I didn’t cull it from the pages of a glossy gourmet cookbook. Instead, I kind of lucked into it in a way that almost makes me feel guilty (but not guilty enough to stop using it).

GB and I were enjoying our first evening out sans baby. To celebrate the occasion, we made reservations at a famous, rather upscale local restaurant. We’d visited this particular place once before for our annual Christmas dinner with GB’s boss. I wanted to go back because I remembered the potatoes.

Dear God, the potatoes.

Baked, buttery orange goodness topped with a thick pecan crust. Served so hot the server warned me to not touch the plate. As delectable and candy coated as pecan pie itself.

Not to get all Man Vs. Food on you, but oh my goodness, oh my goodness.

Our server was a young guy. He was very serious, and when people are too serious, I get nervous. I really just wanted him to loosen up, so I struck up a conversation.

“These sweet potatoes, I swear. They’re like candy. I would absolutely kill for this recipe.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them,” he said gravely, then added, “I’ll see what I can do.”

As he marched back toward the kitchen, I looked at GB. “Did he just say he’d see what he could do?”

“I wonder what that means,” GB answered.

Five minutes later, the server returned with his grim face and a small slip of paper in his hand.

~*~

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Mixture:

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (well beaten)
1 stick of butter

Crust Mixture:

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 stick of butter, melted

Process:

  1. Combine crust mixture in mixing bowl, then set aside.
  2. Combine sweet potato mixture into a mixing bowl in the order listed. Combine thoroughly.
  3. Pour mixture into buttered baking dish.
  4. Sprinkle the surface of the sweet potato mixture evenly with the crust mixture.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

~*~

“Here you go, Miss,” he said. “The recipe you wanted.”

I stumbled through my shock enough to manage a quick, “Oh! Thanks!” I wanted to add, “Is there a charge for this? This isn’t like the Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe story is it?” But really, I didn’t want to be gauche.

We’ve been back to this restaurant every December since then. And we’re going back next weekend. It makes me wonder what would happen if I publicly doted on the garlic herb cheese-stuffed chicken breast…or the lyonnaise…or the crème brulee…

The worst Halloween ever (or, the night a girl and her mom stole my candy)

When I was 5, my parents took me trick-or-treating. It was drizzling, and I had a nasty cold, but I didn’t want to miss Halloween.

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Florida Memory/public domain

I don’t remember my costume, but I remember my bag. It was a paper, with paper-cord handles. This is important. It was a paper bag.

I got a lot of candy, but there were a few duds. One woman was giving out pieces of popcorn — loose, not bagged, just reaching in a bowl and dropping a few into the paper bag — and there was a doctor up the street who gave out pennies.

So, there I am, sick, sniffling, coughing, with a slight fever, walking down the street in a drizzling rain, and I say, “Mom, my bag feels lighter.”

She says, “Oh, you’re just getting used to the weight.”

I stop and look at my bag and say, “No, it broke!”

The bottom had dropped out of my damp paper sack, and all my candy had fallen out.

We looked up the sidewalk and there, maybe 20 feet behind us, a girl and her mother were scooping up my candy and putting it in the girl’s bag.

I looked at Mom. She looked at the girl and mother stealing my candy and sighed. “OK,” she said. “Let’s go to a few more houses, then.”

We did, but we’d already hit most of the houses on the street, and I didn’t get enough candy to make up for the candy the girl and her mother stole.

A few years ago, my parents and I were talking about the kids’ costumes and about Halloween when I was a kid — like the time our neighbor’s big black dog chased me down the street, or the many times teenagers blew up our pumpkins with M-80s — and I asked Mom why she hadn’t tried to stop the woman from taking the candy.

Mom said she knew the woman, or knew of her. I’m from a really small town in eastern Kentucky where everybody knows everybody else, including their family histories and their family’s criminal history. “That woman was mean,” my mom said.

I understood. It would be a waste of time to get into an argument with an idiot over a couple bucks worth of chocolate. I imagine she would have claimed it was hers under the widely held legal principle of “finders keepers.”

So, this Halloween I’ll carve a pumpkin (yuck) and take the kids out trick-or-treating and, because they asked, I’ll wear a costume — Indiana Jones, because I have a jacket and a hat that would work — and if I see a kid spill some candy on the sidewalk, you can bet Things 1 and 2 and I will help him pick it up.

Uncle Cecil, the Apple King

This weekend is Apple Day in Paintsville, Kentucky. Officially, it’s the Kentucky Apple Festival, but everyone calls it Apple Day.
 
It’s basically a county fair. There’s a carnival and a parade and a lot of food, like apple pie, caramel apples and apple butter. There aren’t really a lot of orchards in Johnson County, but there are a few, and every year, the farmer with the best apples is proclaimed the Apple King.
 
When I was 8 years old, my Great Uncle Cecil was Apple King because of his Minerva apples.
 
Cecil was Granny’s brother. He and Aunt Minerva never had kids, but people adopted them as surrogate grandparents. They lived in a log house they built themselves on a small farm up a hollow near a place called Meally.
 
They bickered a lot. Minerva was a little hard of hearing, and Cecil sort of mumbled. He’d say something, she wouldn’t understand him, so he’d say it louder and louder until she understood or accused him of yelling at her, but they loved each other deeply.
 
Cecil was kind of a hacker in the DIY-sense of the word. He loved taking things apart and seeing how they worked and trying to make them do things they weren’t meant to do. He tinkered with old radios and model trains, and he tinkered with his apple trees.
 
I don’t know a lot about horticulture, but he would take stems from one kind of apple tree and graft them onto another one, and after many years, he came up with a hybrid he called the Minerva apple.

Minerva apples were yellow and big and perfect — crisp, not mushy, and a little more sweet than tart. When he finally entered the Minerva apple in the Apple Day contest, the other farmers didn’t have a chance.

I don’t remember the last time I had a Minerva apple. As he and Minerva got older, Cecil let his orchard go, and, one year, there simply weren’t any more.
 
Minerva passed away in 1995, and Cecil died in 1999. I went to see him a few months before he died. He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching CNN on the little TV in the corner. We were making small talk, and I asked how he came up with the Minerva apple. 

He grinned but wouldn’t tell me, because, really, those apples were always just Minerva’s apples.