Flashback: Last year, Vera shared with us the origins of Thanksgiving dating back to the 1620s in her post about the pumpkin soup from Botswana.
And we believe historians, none of the dishes currently present on American tables this national holiday were present during the original Thanksgiving at the time of the Pilgrim Fathers as evidenced by this short video from The Guardian Culture.
This is obviously true of this sweet potato casserole whose roasted marshmallows topping leaves no doubt as to the date of its creation in the early twentieth century.
The root of the marshmallow plant (althaea officinalis) had been known since antiquity. Its extract was combined with honey to treat sore throats. The stem can also be candied as a sweet treat.
But what we now call marshmallow is actually an improved recipe from the early nineteenth century, consisting of beaten egg whites associated with sugar, gelatin and cornstarch and whose semi-final recipe was developed in the late nineteenth century.
It was not until 1948, with the patent filed by American Alex Doumak that an industrial production of marshmallow was started, and marshmallow thus became a mass consumer product. In 1955, no less than 35 plants are producing marshmallows in the US. The technology Alex Doumak devised is also the one that is still used today in the different plants, although the number of plants has significantly decreased since.
One of the first books mentioning the recipe for sweet potato casserole with toasted marshmallows was published in 1918. In sweet potatoes and yams, the recipe can be found on page 12 under the name of candied yams.
Many of my French compatriots would probably consider this sweet potato casserole recipe topped with roasted marshmallows and pecan crumble, an insult to gourmet cuisine. It is certainly far from the Guide Culinaire, the theoretical textbook of French chefs during their training written by Auguste Escoffier in the early twentieth century.
But let’s face it, this preparation is more of one of many side dishes, and you’re not supposed to eat a plateful of it. It brings a sweet and surprising note to the traditional Thanksgiving menu.
The organization of the meal itself is also unique to American culture. Where French holiday meals traditionally follow the ritual of aperitif, appetizer, main course, cheese plate and dessert, on the other side of the Atlantic, the host sets the table with all the main and side dishes, and guests typically serve themselves. When the number of guests is too important to be sitting at the table, all the dishes are then arranged buffet style.
Every year, it is a tradition at the White House that the US President pardons a turkey and saves it from the sad destiny of ending up on a plate. Last year, he even saved two… Mike would probably say that if there is hope for two fat birds, there is probably hope for Vera and me !
Recipe of Sweet Potato Casserole
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 1h30
Ingredients (for 6-8 people)
For the mashed sweet potatoes
- 5 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 lb)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the toppings
- 1 ¼ cup pecans
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pack of marshmallows
Individually wrap sweet potatoes in foil and place on a baking sheet in preheated oven at 400 F for one hour, turning halfway through cooking.
Peel and mix the sweet potatoes in a food processor with all the other mashed sweet potatoes ingredients.
Grease a large baking dish or individual ramekins with butter. Divide the mashed sweet potatoes.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 F.
Remove the dish from the oven and let cool while preparing the pecan crumble.
Melt the butter.
Mix the pecans with the brown sugar.
Add the melted butter and mix well.
Spread this mixture on top of the mashed sweet potato, leaving open spaces and fill the spaces with marshmallows.
Put the dish in the oven for a few minutes. Remove the dish when the marshmallows are melted and are golden brown.