Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sweet Potato Casserole

Today is the one year anniversary of my mother's death. It's been a tough couple of weeks leading up to it, I'll admit. I miss that woman like crazy. In honor of her, I fought the creeping tentacles of my crazy schedule to carve out this day of remembrance. I refused to attend my kids' football game, the post-game pool party, the dessert social at church, the date night, and several other events that tried to occur on this day so that I wouldn't have to pretend to be happy for anybody. Mom deserves that much, since I couldn't go to her grave site for lack of funds and schedule conflicts. I did order flowers for her, but it's not the same thing.

One thing I did today is made Mom's famous sweet potato casserole, covered with melted and crisped up marshmallows. She wrote the recipe out as a "pinch of this, some of that, get the big container, not the small one" sort of thing a couple of years ago for me when I asked. It's the sort of recipe you have to have tasted all your life to be able to duplicate, because you sure as heck can't do it from the recipe itself. Traditionally, my mom would make it for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. She'd spend all day in the kitchen cooking the meal, and then we'd have what we came to call the "ceremonial burning of the marshmallows," wherein Mom would put the casserole under the broiler, get distracted, and when the marshmallows would start to burn, one of us kids would rush over to pull it out while the other ones turned off the bleating smoke alarm. Then, Mom would say, "Oh, sugar-foot," we'd scrape the marshmallows off, and my sister or I would stand watch while a second layer of marshmallows was applied and broiled to perfection. That was always the signal of the official start of the holiday, since it happened every time. For the rest of my life, when I smell burned marshmallows, I know I'll smile and think of my mom.

Anyway, when I moved cross-country two years ago, I adapted her handwritten recipe, through trial and tasting, until I could make it just the way she did. I knew I had it right the day I baked it, tucked a spoonful in my mouth, and my eyes crossed with bliss as memories of years of happy holidays came back with that taste. Sadly, my kids don't have the yen for Mom's casserole the way my sister, brother and I did growing up, which has left me flummoxed. My kids won't grow up with the traditions I had in my house as a kid, and when I'm gone, no one else will make this recipe quite the way Mom did. It is a sad thought, a break in the circle that hadn't occurred to me until after Mom died. It's bad enough we had to lose Mom; do we have to lose her recipes, too?

Therefore, in honor of Dottie, my mother, I've decided to share the recipe with you. I've gotten it as close as I can to my memories through trial and error, but it still calls for tasting because the sweetness and firmness of the sweet potatoes varies from crop to crop. Here it is, and I hope you make it for your family this holiday season, as you remember mine. I swear to you, if you get it right, this is the best damn sweet potato casserole recipe in the universe of casserole recipes, bar none.

Dorothy Jackson's Sweet Potato Casserole recipe:

3 cans (29 oz) sweet potatoes in light syrup
3/4 - 1 c sugar (you can start with the smaller amount and adjust as needed for sweetness, but I gotta tell ya, I always wind up putting in a cup because I like it sweet)
1/2 c stick margarine or butter, cut into cubes
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 c - 1 c low fat or skim milk (adjust for moistness of batter--if too dry, add up to the larger amount. The batter shouldn't be as wet as cake batter--maybe more like cornmeal batter)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash ginger
miniature marshmallows (reserve for after baking)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Drain the sweet potatoes and mash them well. Mix the remaining ingredients together and beat on medium to high speed with mixer until texture is somewhat smooth and most strings in the sweet potatoes are broken down. You may need to adjust the spices, sugar, and milk as per your taste (taste as you mix the ingredients together. The flavors will intensify slightly with cooking, but the taste should be a bit on the sweet side and slightly cinnamon-y, with a very light nutmeg/ginger bite). Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish (about a quart or larger) and bake in oven from 45 mins to one hour. The top should darken slightly, and there should be hissing sounds coming from the mixture with slight, tiny bubbles of steam escaping around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before putting on marshmallows, as they will melt immediately if you do not. (You can make this recipe ahead and store it in the refrigerator. Then warm in microwave prior to putting on marshmallows.) When casserole has cooled to where it is warm to the touch, put a layer of marshmallows over the top to cover, and put under the broiler in the oven. CAUTION: Stay and watch the marshmallows, as it only takes about 30 seconds for them to slightly brown and crisp up, and they burn fast (remember toasting marshmallows over a camp fire? Yeah, it's like that). That is, unless you wish to engage in the "ceremonial burning of the marshmallows" in order to signal the official start of your holiday dinner. Then make sure to have a second bag of marshmallows ready to go. :-)

I hope you enjoy!



Colleen Thompson said...

Hugs to you on this tough anniversary. I like that you're commemorating it by sharing a family recipe. I'll bet your mom would like that.

TJ Bennett said...

Actually, she'd probably kill me. LOL! I think it was a "secret family recipe," but some secrets just need to be told, yanno? But in all other areas, she was indeed a generous woman. :-)


Yasmine Galenorn said...

It's going on seven years since I lost my mother--it's a little easier, but it's never easy. (hugs) to you, and I hope that your memories can carry you through the'll never forget her, even when you're able to face the day without too many tears.


TJ Bennett said...

Thanks, Yasmine. I can't believe it's been a year already. It feels like only yesterday...


Eden Bradley-Eve Berlin said...

Thank you for sharing your mother's recipe and the lovely memories.
My Mom, who's been gone eight years now, used to make something similar during the holidays. Your post made me think of her, and that same sweet smell. Thank you! :)

Vicky B said...

Thank you for the giggle (I can just see you all running for the oven when the marshmallows caught on fire) and the recipe. What a wonderful way to remember your mom.

Vicky B.

TJ Bennett said...

Thank you, Eden and Vicky. Moms are the most special, wonderful people in the world, aren't they?


Robena Grant said...

Big, big, gi-normous hugs. What a wonderful way to remember your mom.

Anonymous said...

Love you, sis.

TJ Bennett said...

Thanks, Robena.

And right back at ya, Sis.