Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes

SWEETPOTATOES

We spent every Thanksgiving with my Auntie Marilyn and Uncle Bob. Half of the time we went to my Aunt’s house and then later, my mom later took over hosting duty. One thing never changed-the menu.

  • cheese + crackers (too many!)
  • vegetable platter + ranch sour cream dip
  • baked artichoke squares (my all time fave!)
  • Roasted Turkey + Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes 
  • Sausage Chestnut Stuffing 
  • Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes
  • Green Beans (later we replaced with creamed spinach)
  • Parker House Rolls
  • Cranberry Jell-o casserole (my guilty pleasure)

As kids, we were just as excited to see the sweet potatoes as we were to see my Aunt & Uncle. My aunt’s sweet potato contribution was truly a labor of love, and even at a young age we knew that to be true.

Over the years, she figured out how to adapt the recipe to help feed growing kids.  She was delighted when her experiment with using canned sweet potatoes instead of roasting her own paid off. 

When I was in high school, my aunt lost her battle with cancer. It was the first major death in my family. Our first holiday without her was hard and it continued to be hard until we learned how to be OK with new traditions while preserving as many as we could.

Every year after her death, my Uncle Bob continued to come to our Thanksgiving with the sweet potatoes. He stood in the kitchen placing every single pecan on top of the orange hued casserole dish to make it ever. so. perfect.  He paused after every few rows of pecans, choking back the tears. I always watched in awe, as my dreams of being a caterer and working in the kitchen transpired. When the Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes came out of the oven and onto the buffet table, us kids would circle around it like hawks. We tried our hardest to see how big of a scoop we could get away with before my mom told us to stop.

Every year we’d say grace and at least 3 people would tear up. We ate the sweet potato casserole to remember my aunt and to remember how many Thanksgivings we were all lucky to share together. Food is incredibly powerful that way.

In the year right before Casey and I were married, my Uncle Bob died suddenly of a heart attack. There was another empty place at our table.  

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

In gathering my Uncle’s stuff, I was given his Sunset Magazine cookbook- the very one with the recipe my Aunt & Uncle used to make this sweet potato casserole.

It’s a Thanksgiving tradition I’ve upheld for the past 10 years.

(Hey Mom- is this Auntie Marilyn’s handwriting or Uncle Bob’s?)

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

There are definitely a lot of sweet potato casserole recipes out there.

I had no idea that people put marshmallows on their sweet potatoes until I was in college! 

What does that even taste like??!

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

You probably have your own family’s recipe.

This one is mine.

My Thanksgiving doesn’t taste the same without it.

Let’s gather our ingredients.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

I peeled /cut up the sweet potatoes.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

All for the purpose of boiling them.

Boil in hot boiling water and then simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until you pierce easily with a fork.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

And this is what you’ll need:

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

I used my kitchen aid mixer for this recipe!

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Eggs, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Followed by orange juice. Whip it up!

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Let’s get topping.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Therapy in lining things up.

Something good to focus on for a bit.

Could be a really good introvert tool. Just sayin’.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

YES. YES. YES.

shutterbeansweetpotatocasserole-12

We’re going to put butter and brown sugar on top! It caramelizes the pecans.

IT IS DELICIOUS.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Don’t believe me?

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

After a trip to the oven, look at this butter/sugar topping.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Who gets to dive in first?

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

It’s just as exciting as cracking into creme brûlée.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

Dibs on the edge pieces.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes for a traditional Thanksgiving Feast! Find the recipe on Shutterbean.com

What’s a tradition that you carry on for your family? 

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes

makes 8-10 servings

recipe slight adapted from Sunset Magazine 1971

  • 3 lbs. sweet potatoes or yams, cooked and peeled
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • orange juice (up to 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mash sweet potatoes (you should have about 6 cups). Beat in eggs, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, salt and cinnamon. If sweet potatoes seem dry, beat in orange juice until moist and fluffy.

Put mashed sweet potatoes in a 2 quart casserole dish. Before baking, arrange peach halves on top; sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup melted butter. Bake, uncovered for 20 minutes, or until heated through.

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  • Priya

    I have never heard of a sweet potato casserole, Tracy! It’s just not anything I have ever seen or heard of in England! Would definitely love to try it out.
    Just wondering, would you eat it with your main meal as a side? Seems super sweet to have sweet potatoes and sugar- it’s confusing my brain! As for marshmallows…?!?!

  • Vivian | stayaliveandcooking

    Ohhh, that looks like quite the thanksgiving meal! I’ve never tried sweet potatoes like this, and I was quite surprised to see the addition of orange juice. I can’t wait to try it though!

  • Victoria Pease

    I love how for each family, their main holiday meal (Christmas for us, Thanksgiving I guess is a bigger, more traditional meal in the US?) is so unique. If something was missing, the entire meal would feel strange! I’m from Scotland and every year my mam makes a traditional clootie dumpling for pudding (a pudding steamed for hours in a cloth dusted with flour that’s full of currants and sweet spices) She always does it by eye and one year it just didn’t work – we all greedily ate it anyway but I remember she remade it on Boxing Day just to prove to us that she could – although she didn’t need to, we all knew! Stuff like that just makes a holiday meal, the love that goes into each dish and what everyone brings to the table – even if its just me and my sister chopping five onions for stuffing or wrapping 50 chipolatas for pigs in blankets. Everyone has a task and gets involved. I loved the story about your aunt and uncle, pecan sweet potatoes sound lovely but like you, the marshmallow addition you hear on tv just baffles me, surely it must be sickly sweet?!

    http://victoriaspongepeasepudding.com/

  • Laura

    Thanks for sharing your family with us.

  • Deborah

    What a sweet tribute to your aunt and uncle. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • Sarah

    Love this. Such comfort after an exhausting/stressful/sad week. My family in Nebraska makes ‘cranberry fluff’ and ‘pink cloud’ for every Thanksgiving. The former involves marshmallows, pecans, cranberries, and who knows what else but it is fluffy and delicious. The later is cool whip, bananas, strawberries all blended together and served frozen in individual muffin cups. I now live in New York and my friends here think its hysterical that one of our ‘salads’ involves marshmallows but it tastes like home to me.

  • Tracy | Pale Yellow

    Thank you for sharing such a sweet family memory. Food is such a lovely way to keep people alive. I make traditional family Christmas cookies my great grandmother used to make and although I do not remember her making them, the older generation does. I love that I am able to keep the tradition alive!

  • Mary from iowa

    Memories…really great writing. I make this recipe too. You are really good at your job. Mary

  • Jenn

    I’m all about traditions… it just makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. We always watch Charlie Brown Thanksgiving right after Macy’s Parade ends.

    A newer tradition that I started in my adult years is not cooking on Wednesday night. We have everyone over and order in. Luckily, even in our small-ish town we have a pizza joint and a Chinese/Thai take out right next door to each other. It’s not uncommon to have a slice of pizza with a side of fried rice. It’s like the anti-Thanksgiving meal. Of course, we all go around the table and read our fortunes… in bed.

  • Denise

    Tracy:

    I knew your Aunt Marilyn and she was beautiful inside and out. Her death was a great loss. I also have the same cookbook and use it frequently. Best wishes to you and your family for a wonderful Thanksgiving .

  • Beverlily

    Dearest Tracy, Your post made me both sad and happy. I am feeling very weepy right now because Thanksgiving was the last holiday I spent with my sister. Do you believe it has been 21 years since she passed? FYI that is Bob’s handwriting. I’m so glad that you have continued with this tradition and I look forward to spending these holidays with our family. All my love, Mom

  • Ann

    i really enjoyed your story, you must have been so fond of your aunty and uncle. I googled the cranberry jello, not so fond of that! I’d be willing to give the sweet potato dish a go, especially if it has a sweet crispy top.

    • Tracy

      my mom’s version had sour cream and cranberry in it. there were also bits of celery and walnuts. sounds weird, but somehow I loved it.

  • Rachel

    This looks so tasty! My dad always put marshmallows on top which was delicious, but not as good after the initial day. Thank you so much for sharing your story- I got a little choked up reading about your aunt and uncle. It’s great to see you keep their tradition alive!

  • Briel K.

    What a beautiful story Tracy! Made me a little teary at work while reading it. Thank you for sharing!

  • Kara

    What an incredibly sweet story about your aunt and uncle!!! Sweet potato casserole is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving. We chop the pecans in ours, but I’d love to try this version.

  • Gwen

    Great story and a great family memory. I too make my mother’s special sweet potato casserole and her cranberry salad every year. Special as well is my husband’s grandmother’s Sailor Duff made in an enameled steamer that belonged to her mother (or perhaps her grandmother) so it’s really old. Sailor Duff is a molasses pudding, more cake-like, with a decadent sweet sauce.

  • Jenna

    Lovely post honouring your aunt & uncle, you are a great writer. Love the idea that we can keep the memory of someone alive through food (and family coming together). Being from New Zealand, sweet potato casserole has always sounded a bit strange to me, but this one looks delicious. We usually eat sweet potatoes in savoury applications so the marshmallow topping of many of the casserole recipes seems odd to me. Same for the jello salads (although I’m sure there are also plenty of things I grew up eating that would seem just as strange to someone in America)!

  • JJ

    This post is precious. I mean it in the most sincere way. I love that Uncle Bob continued the tradition with so much love. It is a good reminder of why the time together is important. Also, we never had marshmallows either!

  • Shawna

    Can this be made ahead the day before and add the pecans and brown sugar before baking?

  • Jessica

    What a beautiful post highlighting your family recipe. It’s a delicious dish. And your mother’s cranberry jello is in my top five favorite salad of all time.

  • Michelle

    I am the one in charge of bringing the sweet potatoes every year and you know what – I am going to make your recipe this year! Thanks for sharing your story of fanily, food and love. We will have 2 less people around our table this year and I want to focus on the good memories and try not to cry too much into my sweet potatoes. :)

  • The Weekend Update : Nov 18 – Everything Bloom

    […] · What’s your dish this Thanksgiving? We’re eyeing this cheesecake marble pumpkin slab pie and these pecan topped sweet potatoes. […]

  • lulu

    I am allergic to oranges (boo.hiss) and am curious if i could replace the orange juice with pineapple juice? or coconut milk? thank you!

  • Debra

    So it is 05:30 in the morning & I have tears in my eyes & a tightness in my throat. I think many of us have memories like this. Truly the meaning of family. Thanks for the reminder of things we should be grateful for. Here is to traditions old & new.

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    What a beautiful tradition. These sweet potatoes look absolutely amazing… I’d totally make them except my parents keep kosher, so no dairy. It’s kind of a bummer.

    • jwoolman

      The butter could be replaced with nondairy margarine like Earth Balance or/and coconut oil or coconut butter. Sweet potatoes definitely are great with coconut oil. I would have to omit the eggs myself. I do that all the time with cookie recipes. If their binding quality is really needed, I would try 1 tbsp ground flax seed plus 1 tbsp water per egg. Just think vegan (kosher by default).

  • Katja

    Those old Sunset cookbooks are the BEST! Brings back great memories from my childhood. Have never made this though…looks amazing!

  • Lane

    What a sweet (and tearful) story, Tracy. Thank you for sharing your family’s memories and recipes. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving xo

  • erica

    Happy Thanksgiving to you & your family! I am making this dish today to bring to my feast tomorrow. Giving many thanks to you for your words, your images and your warm & generous heart.

  • Dayna

    Reading this post now (a year after you posted it!) because my sister recommended it to me! Totally made me cry to read this post. So so lovely Tracy. I think it is so meaningful that you keep this tradition alive. All the best to your thanksgiving table this year. :)

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