Nov 12, 2008

Warm Fuzzies Over Turkey Day

My mom always hosted Thanksgiving for our extended family. Every year until only recently. This meant anywhere from 15-22 people packed into our very, very tiny house. I loved it! It was so exciting that everyone was coming to my house. My mom would start the enormous turkey at some unbelievable time in the morning (What? There are two 4:30s per day?). When the rest of us would make our way out of our beds, the house was already awake with the smells of roasting turkey. Wasn’t hard to accomplish that, actually. Did I tell you this house was small? I’d begin my Thanksgiving ritual of sprawling out on my bedroom floor to draw holiday-appropriate pictures for decorating the house, grinning because I knew they wouldn’t go unnoticed by my great-grandma and grandma. I also knew that when my grandpa carved the turkey, he would whisper, “hey, come’mere” and give me crispy, salty turkey skin on the sly.

Looking back on it, I’m not sure why I got so jazzed up. Reality is that it was probably a pretty dull day in kid world. The women folk would swarm the kitchen with buzzing chatter (ok let’s be honest...gossip) and work on dinner. The men would squeeze together in the cramped living room around the TV to watch football. After we ate, the gals would wash dishes, put away the food (remember food safety, everyone!), clean the kitchen, start the coffee, and gossip some more. As they headed back to the living room, the men would request desserts, tossing their orders over shoulders because football, naps, and gas-passing couldn’t wait. If my brothers and I were lucky, one of the younger uncles would start up a Turkey Bowl game in the front yard. We often played in shorts and t-shirts. Many Thanksgivings of my youth were warm and muggy.

Really, there wasn’t much excitement at all. The dishes that everyone brought weren’t even surprising. There was no anticipation of uncovering casserole dishes to reveal the mysteries of who brought what. We already knew. In my family, with few exceptions, we always have the same thing every year. Maybe you think it is boring, dull, uninspired, lacking of culinary breadth or cunning. To us, it is simply tradition...what made that day Thanksgiving.

My great-grandma, known to all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as “Grandma Vick,” was one of the cooks in my family. She was also a lot of fun, being very spunky. (In her 60s, she taught me how to jump rope.) She had not one, but three “signature dishes.” One of them will never be posted here because it violates one of my closely observed dessert food rules: if it ain’t chocolate, I probably don’t want it. An addendum: fruit is NOT a dessert. I don’t give a flying fig what the French think. The recipe, which from here on out shall never be spoken of again, was Lemon Yum-Yums. Secretly, my brothers and I referred to them as “Lemon Yuck-Yucks.” Oh, my, we were a clever bunch. All the adult women loved and adult men did not. Grandma Vick’s other famous family recipes were Peppermint Sticks and her much-loved Sweet Potato Crunch.

Sweet Potato Crunch, a sweet potato casserole sans marshmallows, was the dish she brought for Thanksgiving. Every. Single. Year. No one rolled eyes or sighed or wished—even secretly—for those damned gloppy marshmallows. This was one of the highlights, the can’t-pass-it-up dishes amongst the many bowls, casseroles, and platters of food. Grandma Vick died in 2000, but we still serve this dish every year. One of my teenage cousins has taken up the tradition of making it.

I know there are tons of sweet potato casseroles out there and most are fairly similar in ingredients and proportions. I don’t care. Grandma Vick’s Sweet Potato Crunch is the best.

Sweet Potato Crunch

from Ms. enPlace
3 c cooked, mashed sweet potato

½ c sugar2 eggs, beaten½ c butter, melted
½ c milk
½ tsp vanilla
Combine above ingredients and spoon into a greased casserole.

Topping:½ c brown sugar
1 c pecans, chopped
1/3 c flour
1/3 stick butter, melted
Combine topping ingredients and spoon over potato mixture. Bake, uncovered at 350 for about 35 minutes.

This is all you'll need.
Cook the sweet potatoes by boiling or baking. That can be done the day before if you'd like.

Sometimes I make the topping first just so I can get at the pecans. I love pecans.

The sweet potato mixture. Yummm. Looks a lot like baby food.

After the sweet potato mixture goes in a casserole dish, sprinkle with the topping and bake.

Dig in!

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