Thursday, November 27, 2014

The First Thanksgiving - Sweet Potato Pie

"Our national holiday really stems from the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony's first successful harvest."

Forget everything you ever learned in school about the first Thanksgiving.  As any 20th century new bride can tell you, the first Thanksgiving is really all about that first big dinner you hosted and cooked for two dozen relatives, in an apartment barely big enough for you, your husband, and a small dog.

A very small dog.

Rob and I were married on October 20, 1974, and immediately moved into our own one-bedroom apartment in West Babylon, with a kitchen the size of a shoebox.  When we got back from our honeymoon, I promptly invited everybody for Thanksgiving dinner.  Back then, everybody was a lot of bodies.  All our closest relatives were alive and well and on speaking terms with each other.  The tablecloths my sweet mother-in-law had made for me were brand new and completely spotless. I knew how to cook scrambled eggs, meatloaf, and anything under a broiler - chicken, hamburger, lamb chops.  I could open a can of Campbell's tomato soup like nobody's business. I had an egg beater (non-electric), a gas stove, a cookbook (The Joy of Cooking) and a potato masher.  And I had a working telephone with which to call the help line, which was manned 24/7 by my grandmother (Mom) and my mother-in-law (Mom). This girl's on FIRE!

I had no knife skills - I did not even own a decent knife, and did not know I needed one - but I seemed to have an innate talent for following a recipe to successful results.  When I think back, this was a skill likely honed during my summers taking bacteriology in high school, applying what the teacher, Marvin Waks, referred to as "cookbook chemistry" when brewing up batches of tasty agar for the various bacterial colonies to feast upon. Oh yum, right?

Either the dinner was a huge success, or both sides of the family were being extremely kind.  I managed to make the stuffing according to my grandmother's directions.  I can't call it a recipe, because that implies fairly specific amounts of each ingredient, but it was close enough and the stuffing wasn't bad at all. Robert carved the turkey, which I remember being the size of a VW beetle, and best of all, we had my grandmother's sweet potato pie as the tastiest side dish ever.  Except I didn't make that one, she did.  And sent it along with my Pop, because she was home with walking pneumonia and had to miss my first Thanksgiving.  Everybody there went nuts for the "pie" and so I've been making it for almost every Thanksgiving since then, as well as for Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, New Year's Eve, and a couple of Tupperware parties.  If I try to change it at all, I am promptly chastised.  In the words of Joseph Stalin, "deviation is treason."

This Thanksgiving, November 27, is my grandmother's yahrzeit, the anniversary of her passing in 2000.  Thanks for the memories, Mom.  And most of all, thanks for the recipe.

Mom's Sweet Potato Pie

2 large cans of yams (or sweet potatoes), well drained
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large can crushed pineapple, well drained
Cornflake crumbs for the topping (Kellogg's is the only brand I know of)
Additional melted butter for the topping

In a large bowl, mash the drained yams with a hand masher.  Melt the butter in a small pan, and then blend the brown sugar into it.  Pour the butter-sugar mixture into the yams and mix well to combine.  Season with a little kosher salt, to taste.  Layer half of the mashed yam mixture into a baking dish.  Top this with all of the drained pineapple, and then the rest of the yams.  Cover the top with cornflake crumbs and drizzle over this some melted butter.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.  This serves at least eight as a side dish.

I like to make this in a 2 quart glass souffle dish, because the amount fits perfectly, and the dish is taller than your normal 2 quart casserole, and so it shows off the layers nicely.

Today, however, because we are a party of just 5, with a couple of really small eaters, I cut this down to fit into a smaller soufflĂ© dish, about 1 1/2 liters, and also shortened the prep time by first beating the potatoes with an electric mixer, then adding the butter, cut up rather than melted, and the brown sugar, right into the bowl with the potatoes.  This presumes you are using a glass or otherwise microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for about a minute to soften the butter, and finish beating the potatoes with the electric mixture until fairly smooth, and the butter and sugar are well-combined.  Layer the sweet potatoes and pineapple, cover with plastic wrap, and put into the refrigerator until 2 hours before you plan on serving.  Let the dish sit on the counter for about an hour, sprinkle on the cornflake crumbs, drizzle the additional melted butter, and bake in a preheated 350 oven for an hour.

For this size dish, I used two 29 oz. cans of sweet potatoes (Hanover brand), 6 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, and an 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple.

Have a happy, healthy, wonderful Thanksgiving.  Stay safe, drive carefully, and for Heaven's sake, carve the turkey BEFORE you get to the table.

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