Editor’s note: Thanksgiving traces its origins to an uneasy, temporary alliance between 17th-century English settlers and members of the Wampanoag Confederacy. This year, Eater is choosing to acknowledge that history in our coverage of the holiday.
I don’t mind relinquishing control of the Thanksgiving menu. I’m happy not to make the stuffing. My gravy is usually not that special, so it’s a relief that my grandmother makes it (hers isn’t very good either, but she shoulders that responsibility). One family friend brings green beans, and another brings roasted Brussels sprouts. I love the way most of the meal just sort of appears while I anxiously watch the turkey cook and have my first 3:30 p.m. cocktail.
But you know what does bother me? When the sweet potato casserole shows up without a single marshmallow, and whoever brought it spouts off some speech about how “sweet potatoes are already sweet enough!” Unfortunately, they — and essentially all of my colleagues, who emphatically disagree with this article’s premise — are wrong. In the past, I’ve done a little that’s nice smile as I park the lacking casserole with the rest of the dishes. In my heart though, it’s nothing but sadness and disappointment. So please, if we get one thing right this Thanksgiving let it be the sweet potato casserole. As far as I’m concerned, that means marshmallows, and plenty of them.
Even as I write this, my coworkers are yelling at me over Slack: “No, Elazar, you gotta make the crumble with brown sugar and nuts! No Marshmallows! You have terrible taste!” Sure, it’s undeniably true that a pecan crumble is delicious, and contributes more textural variety than a cloud of toasted marshmallow. But to me, sweet potato casserole is not about a wild array of texture, or some refined balance of flavors. It’s a one-tone dish, in the best way possible. It’s exuberance, it’s decadence, it’s a celebration of gooey-mushy texture. It is the dessert you eat mid-meal because you can. Its sweetness completely overwhelms the senses, and the only thing that can reset your tastebuds is more of everything else on your plate.
So, is sweet potato casserole with a fluffy marshmallow layer a little over the top? Absolutely. But since when has this meal been about restraint or a light touch? For that matter, when has the food of Thanksgiving ever been dictated by the same rules as all the other meals we eat? At my house at least, the table is usually set by 3 o’clock, there are like 14 desserts and maybe three vegetables, and by normal dinner hours, everyone is either napping or having a raised-voices conversation with the extended family. Like pretty much every other dish on the table, sweet potato casserole isn’t something I’d be likely to serve or request at a dinner party the rest of the year — though, honestly, I’d be delighted if someone did bring it to a potluck. It’s a once-a-year dish for me, and as such, I don’t have a taste for “trying something new,” or “branching out.”
If you know me, you know my love for sweet potatoes runs deep. When I want sweet potatoes with variety, I’ll switch from the orange ones to the unquestionably sweeter and more delicious yellow-fleshed Korean or Japanese ones. I’ll cube and slather them in miso and maple syrup. I’ll slice them lengthwise and cover them in crema or creme fraiche. If I had it my way, the Thanksgiving table would essentially be seven kinds of sweet potato, some turkey legs, and a plate of stuffing. Alas, the holidays are about compromise, and apparently there’s more to a “balanced diet” than three varieties of sweet potato and a pecan pie. If we’re settling for just one measly sweet potato dish, I’ll accept marshmallows on half of the casserole. That, to me, feels like a proactive — mature, even — solution. Anything less than that, though, will not do.