Around the Island

Binder’s bites: A memorable Thanksgiving

Our columnist takes a trip down memory lane for this sweet potato casserole.

Thanksgiving 1985 was memorable. For one, Uncle Jimmy was in charge of the bird and Aunt Noella first introduced her sweet potato casserole (dessert or side, you decide). All the other contributions were delicious, I’m sure, but a blur.

As always, Uncle Jimmy and my cousins gleefully arrived, parading into my aunt’s home carrying sausage pie (two types), a foil-covered turkey and some wine. 

The roasted turkey was placed on the counter awaiting its turn to be presented to the table. As the turkey sat alone in the kitchen, we caught up with one another while enjoying appetizers and drinks in the living room. Kids whirled around the house, popping in and out of the kitchen, running up and down the stairs, getting back in the flow with cousins they hadn’t seen in weeks. 

The time had come to move to the table for the traditional Thanksgiving feast (yes, it includes lasagna for this Italian-American family) when a screech came from the kitchen: “Ahh! Someone ate all the skin!” The look of shock, horror, and guilt (even when you’re innocent, just the thought of eating the skin can make you look and feel guilty) filled the faces of my family. No yummy, salty, crispy skin? How could the turkey be bare? Was it the dog? No way, too precise a maneuver. Was it my younger cousins? Did they dare one another? Couldn’t be, one of them would’ve cracked under the pressure. Was it a slow process, each peek at the bird inspiring a sample of the skin? No one fessed up. Did Uncle Jimmy arrive with a naked bird? I can’t imagine. But to this day, no one knows. 

The ribbing and speculation was intense and, at times, uncomfortable, but soon quieted as we dug into and savored the “new” dish that Aunt Noella proudly passed around – sweet potato casserole – tasty, rich, and the hero of Thanksgiving 1985.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Sweet potato casserole
Eight to 10 servings

4 large sweet potatoes (totaling 3-4 lbs)

4T of melted butter plus more for buttering 9×13 pan 

1/4 C of white sugar

1/2 C half and half or whole milk

1t vanilla

1 egg, beaten

pinch of salt (or to taste)

Pecan topping

4T melted butter

1 C of dark brown sugar 

1/2 C flour

pinch of salt

1 C chopped pecans

1. Wash any dirt off the sweet potatoes and boil them in a large pot of water, skin on, until fork tender (about 40 minutes).

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Generously butter your casserole/baking dish.

4. Remove potatoes from water and slightly cool; slip the skins off.

5. In a large mixing bowl, mash the sweet potatoes with butter, sugar, vanilla, half and half, salt, and

beaten egg. Mix well.

6. Smooth into your buttered baking dish.


7. In a medium sized bowl, mix melted butter with brown sugar, flour, and salt. 

8. Add pecans and mix well.

9. Sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture.

10. Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Can be made ahead and reheated.