My husband’s grandmother, known by the family simply as Grandma, made several traditional dishes each Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wrote about her cornbread dressing here. Another one of her specialties was a sweet potato casserole topped with a pecan streusel. After she died in 1993, the tradition of making her recipes was adopted by various members of her family. I started making the dressing as my usual Thanksgiving dish, and my sister-in-law took over sweet potato duty.
Grandma’s sweet potato casserole is a thing of beauty. It’s sweet and rich, and the dish could almost substitute for dessert. The crunchy streusel topping makes an ideal textural contrast to the smooth mashed sweet potatoes which lie underneath.
The casserole can be made very easily with fresh sweet potatoes, but if you’re in a pinch, you can use canned yams. Because the canned yams are packaged in syrup, I chose to use fresh sweet potatoes. I chose six medium-sized potatoes, baked them for an hour, peeled them, and mashed the sweet potatoes by hand.
I also burned my fingers on the hot potatoes. Don’t do that. You should let these cool a bit before peeling them. Learn from my mistake.
While the potatoes bake, you can make the streusel topping with chopped pecans, butter, flour, and brown sugar. This part can even be done the day before; just store the topping in a resealable plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
It’s hard for me to make a recipe exactly as it’s written these days, and Grandma’s sweet potato casserole is no exception. I was hoping to find a way to make it a little healthier (so I could eat more), so I cut back on some of the sugar and butter. I won’t do that again. The casserole was still delicious, but it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to taste.
Since this recipe comes with such strong taste memories for me and my husband, from now on I’ll prepare it using all those extra calories. It just tastes better with them. It tastes like Grandma’s. It tastes like Thanksgiving.
Grandma's Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 6-8 as a side dish, depending on how many times your family goes back for seconds. The struesel topping makes enough for a double-size recipe. I find it easier to make a larger batch of streusel and then keep the extra in a resealable plastic bag. The extra pecan streusel makes a nice topping for steel cut oatmeal in the morning.]
Ingredients for Casserole:
5 medium-to-large sweet potatoes
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten well
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Ingredients for Streusel Topping:
1 cup light brown sugar, packed [You could also use dark brown sugar instead.]
1/3 cup (about 5 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on a foil-lined sheet pan and pierce each several times with the tines of a fork. Bake for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Allow to cool to the touch, then peel and mash well in a bowl.
Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Make streusel topping: Blend brown sugar, butter, flour, and chopped pecans together with a pastry blender or fork. Set aside.
Mix mashed sweet potatoes with sugar, eggs, butter, and vanilla. Pour into a 9 x 9 inch lightly greased casserole dish. Sprinkle sweet potato mixture with the streusel topping, as much as your heart desires.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the casserole is set.
Note: The casserole can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Pour the prepared sweet potatoes into a tightly-covered dish, but do not add the topping. When ready to bake, pour into the casserole dish and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Top with struesel and bake as directed.