How Sweet It Is

Alabama Living Magazine
Does your family prefer marshmallow topping, crunchy pecans or are you a family divided? If you’re ready to shake things up a bit, check for a few traditional and some not-so-traditional sweet potato casserole recipes. Food stylist and photographer | Brooke Echols

By Jennifer Kornegay

     A plump turkey, its skin golden brown and crisped by either hot oven air or scalding oil, is the undisputed star of the Southern Thanksgiving table. A chorus of side dishes circles it, and the queen of these back-up singers is usually some iteration of the sweet potato casserole. With the inclusion of sugar and sometimes, a crowning cloud of mini marshmallows, the orange tuber’s inherent subtle sweetness is amplified to an intensity that really should land this dish on the dessert table.

     When given some thought, the addition of marshmallows to the sweet potato casserole is especially odd. Sure, particularly around holidays, we sometimes glaze ham with brown sugar or maybe molasses, but we don’t usually embellish vegetables or other savory foods with candy. We don’t top baked potatoes with gumdrops. We don’t stuff our turkeys with jellybeans. So where did the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows come from?

     It isn’t a Southern invention. Despite its prevalence in our feasts to celebrate an attitude of gratitude, it originated as a marketing ploy of a marshmallow maker in Massachusetts in the early 1900s. The company was looking for a way to boost sales of its brand new treat by disseminating recipes for the home cook that called for marshmallows as an ingredient. This type of sweet potato casserole, today a beloved Thanksgiving tradition in our region, is actually corporate propaganda cloaked in the seemingly innocent pleasure of puffed-sugar fluffs. And, after its initial introduction, it was eaters in the Northern United States who gave it the popularity that pushed it to “classic” status.

     So, if you enjoy this addition to your plateful of turkey-day foods, thank a clever marketing mind. If you don’t like it, blame the Yankees. (And rest assured, we’ve got many recipes sans marshmallows for you in this month’s recipes.)

Cook of the Month 

Courtney Walker, Dixie EC 

“It was actually an accident,” said Courtney Walker of her Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potato recipe. It was a happy accident though. She makes baked sweet potatoes a lot, and one night, was eating one with another dish that had her tomato and parsley topping on it. “I got a mouthful of both, and I loved the combo, so I decided to create a dish around that bite,” she said. The result is her healthy, filling side that can actually be an entire meal. “With the hummus in the sauce, it really satisfies your appetite,” she said. And she encourages people to play with the flavors to find what they like best. “You can add or take away the amount of garlic, and the optional toppings are truly optional,” she said. “But, they are really good.”

Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, halved
  • 1/2teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, cinnamon and smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Squirt of lemon juice, optional
  • 2tablespoons olive oil
  • Garlic Herb Sauce:
  • ¼cup hummus
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 2tablespoons dried dill or to taste
  • 2teaspoons minced garlic
  • Water or unsweetened almond milk (enough to thin it out)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Optional toppings:
  • ¼cup diced tomatoes
  • ¼cup chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Chili sauce, to taste and add fresh garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Rinse off potatoes, dry and slice each in half.  Combine cumin, coriander, cinnamon and smoked paprika. Sprinkle lightly over cut side of potatoes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice if desired. Place face down on pan and rub with oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cook for 30-40 minutes until soft. While the potatoes are roasting, prepare your sauce. Add all sauce ingredients to a bowl and blend well. Only add enough water or almond milk to thin it out, but be careful not to make it runny. Taste and add ingredients to your preference if needed. (Note: if you don’t like hummus, substitute with tahini.) Prepare the parsley-tomato topping by tossing all ingredients together. When potatoes are cooked and tender, mash the center down, top with the sauce and garnish with the tomato topping. Sprinkle with a little more dill or lemon if desired.

Sweet Potato Crunch

  • 1½ cups plain flour
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup margarine, melted


  • 3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and     mashed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Topping:
  •   8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  •   2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8-ounce container Cool Whip
  • Additional chopped pecans

In a bowl, combine flour and pecans. Stir in margarine. Press into a greased 13×9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. In another large bowl, add sweet potatoes, sugar, butter and vanilla; stir until smooth. Spread over crust.

For topping: Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread over filling. Sprinkle with pecans, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Yield about 12-16 servings.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC

Sweet Potato Biscuits

  • 1can Grands Flaky Biscuits
  • 1package sweet potato patties
  • 1 stick oleo
  • 21/2 cups water
  • 2cups sugar
  • 2tablespoons white Karo syrup
  • Cinnamon, for sprinkling

Melt oleo in a 9×11-inch baking dish. Heat water to a simmer; add sugar and Karo syrup. Mix and boil for 10 minutes. Pull biscuits apart into halves. Place one sweet potato patty between two biscuit halves. Crimp edges together and place in dish of melted butter. Pour hot sugar mixture over biscuits. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Shena Blocker

Covington EC

Candied Sweet Potatoes

  • 5 or 6 medium sweet potatoes
  •   1¾ cups Dr. Pepper
  •   1¼ cups sugar
  •   ¾ stick butter
  •   ¾ teaspoon salt

Parboil sweet potatoes for 10 minutes. (Cook’s note: I like to bake them for better flavor.) Slice sweet potatoes and place in baking dish. Combine all remaining ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 10 minutes to create a syrup. Pour syrup mixture over sweet potatoes and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, basting sweet potatoes several times. Juice will not be very thick.

Joyce Mathis

Tallapoosa River EC

Yummy Yam Bread

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, baked and mashed
  • ¾ cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple, undrained
  • ¾ cup chopped nuts or raisins
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour mixture into two greased loaf pans or one tube pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. (Cook’s note: Adjust baking time to pan size and desired doneness.)

Peggy Lunsford

Pea River EC

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

  • 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12/3 cup sugar
  •   ¾ cup evaporated milk
  •   ½ cup butter, melted
  •   ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  •   ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Pour into pie shell and bake for 55-60 minutes. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a dash of ground nutmeg. For a more dense pie, use 1½ cups mashed sweet potatoes instead of 1 cup.

Charlotte Graves

 Sand Mountain EC

Additional Recipes!

Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 5-6 medium-size fresh sweet potatoes
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1 cup yellow cake mix (I used the Martha White small box)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Optional: chopped walnuts or pecans and coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash, peel and cut potatoes into ½-inch disks. Place in 9×13-inch pan. In medium-size saucepan, melt butter. Add cake mix, sugar and vanilla, cooking and stirring to make a sauce. Add any optional ingredients, if using. I add pecans. Remove from heat, stir well and pour over potatoes. Bake 25 minutes, checking for doneness after 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Shirley Rossano

North Alabama EC

Pretzel-Topped Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 cups pretzel pieces (I recommend Snyder’s of Hannover Salted Caramel Pieces)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar, for the topping
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 cup for topping, 1/4 cup for potatoes)
  • 1 40-ounce can sweet potatoes
  • 1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break pretzels into bite size pieces, chop pecans and rinse cranberries. In large bowl, combine pretzel pieces, brown sugar, cranberries, pecans and ½ cup melted butter. Mix well and set aside. In large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, small handful of brown sugar and ¼ cup melted butter. Mix until smooth and pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Add pretzel-cranberry topping and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Pamela Martin

Arab Electric Coop

 Sweet Potato Pudding

  • 2 cups grated sweet potatoes
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Miniature marshmallows

Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Stir and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Top with mini marshmallows and brown in the oven.

Mary Segers

Cullman EC

Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk


  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup butter

Mix first 6 ingredients well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Mix topping ingredients and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes.

Charlotte Graves

Sand Mountain EC

Coming up in December…Edible Gifts!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

January: Crockpot | Nov. 8

February: Spicy Foods | Dec. 8

March: Honey | Jan. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.


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