If you’re fortunate enough to have a home-cooked meal for Thanksgiving, it will probably include the sweet potato. There is nothing like enjoying one of my childhood favorites, a sweet potato casserole topped with oven-browned marshmallows.
Or is there? Many professional chefs are saying this is one dish we could all do without. The objections can be summed up simply as “Why sweeten sweet potatoes?”
According to the Library of Congress, the even-sweeter sweet potato goes back to at least the late 18th century. American Cookery, one of the first cookbooks published in this country in 1796, includes a recipe for “potato pudding” with mashed sweet potatoes, milk, nutmeg and egg whites.
In an article on the website Saveur (https://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/thanksgiving-sweet-potato-casserole), marshmallows were added as part of a campaign to make the American diet more sugary. It reports how the company Angelus Marshmallows had Boston Cooking School Magazine founder Janet McKenzie Hill develop recipes based on their product. Her 1917 booklet included a recipe for sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows.
However, this idea wasn’t universally accepted to begin with. People in the South generally preferred their sweet potatoes without embellishment, while cooks in the North were quicker to try something new. And lately the trend seems to conform more to those early Southern tastes. For example, April Bloomfield, chef at New York City’s Spotted Pig, says “It’s adding sweet on top of sweet. There are so many other satisfying ways to prepare them.”
Of course, you can still have your sweet potato and eat it too. Just fix them without marshmallows. Or Michael Symon, host of ABC’s The Chew, suggests adding Idaho potatoes, then topping the dish with praline for textured sweetness.
It will be interesting to see how our Thanksgiving menus continue to evolve.