Old recipe books can reveal how our dietary went awry in the 20th century. Take the New Delineator Recipes, printed in 1930, for example. The book includes 24 dinner menus, typically a meat dish served with potatoes and two vegetables. In 10 of the 24 recipes a salad replaces one of the vegetables. Twenty of the menus include potatoes; two include sweet potatoes. One big change from the ‘30s to now is that we eat more salads and a lot less of meat and potatoes. The potatoes we eat now are more often sweet potatoes, rich in carotene and less glycemic.
Most sweet potato casserole recipes are a sugar disaster. A healthier sweet potato casserole recipe seemed a simple goal. I’d simply use the natural sweetness of fruit to reduce the sugar, and substitute pecans for the usual marshmallow topping. That was two weeks and a dozen batches ago—it wasn’t that easy. It turns out that when you reduce the sweetness, the flavor become more important. The beautiful wife confesses to a sweet tooth, so finding a flavor that worked with less sugar required a few experiments.
Traditional flavors for sweet potatoes, according to The Flavor Bible, include pecans, cinnamon, butter, nutmeg, and maple. Apples and pineapple, as well as raisins, dates, and cranberries—each a natural way to sweeten—are also noted. Many recipes include orange juice, but for us the orange juice seemed to turn bitter during cooking and the low sugar content made this noticeable.
So here’s our best effort—it’s the lowest sugar casserole we’ve seen but the natural fruit and flavors give it a great taste. Most recipes include eggs; this one doesn't. It goes well with some leftover ham, chicken, or salmon, plus a green salad.
Skip’s Sweet Potato Casserole (Serves 5-6)
3-4 medium-large sweet potatoes (about 2½ lb.)
3 apples, green or whatever
8 oz. crushed pineapple, canned or fresh
¼ C butter (1/2 cube), softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp maple extract
Dash of fresh nutmeg
¼ C butter (1/2 cube), softened
¼ C sugar, turbinado or dark brown
1 to 1½ C pecans, roughly chopped
- Fill a pot ½ full of hot water (enough to cover sweet potatoes and apples) and bring to a boil. While water is heating wash, peel, and quarter the sweet potatoes and apples. Put the sweet potatoes into the boiling water first and add the apples 10-12 minutes later. Total cooking time is around 20 minutes; the apples and sweet potatoes should be soft enough to mash, but not mushy.
- While the pot is boiling, prepare the sauce and the topping. For the sauce, combine melted butter with the seasonings. For the topping, cream the butter and sugar, then stir in the pecans. This is a good time to turn on the oven, 350 F. (Note: I prefer turbinado, a form of raw sugar, to the store-bought brown sugar because the latter is often just white sugar with a little molasses sprayed on, but either is acceptable. Maple syrup likely works but it’s a little pricey.)
- When the sweet potatoes and apples are ready, drain and mash with a potato masher, adding the pineapple. (Note: We tried this with both canned crushed pineapple, and with a pineapple we had sliced and saved in the fridge. Pineapple is a good source of natural sweetness, especially if fully ripe, or brown. If it’s a little green, you can bring out the sweetness by cooking it a few minutes in a frying pan until slightly browned.)
- Stir in the sauce. Pour mixture into a 2 qt. casserole. Sprinkle with pecan topping. Bake about 20 minutes until pecans are browned.
Time: With a little experience, allow 30 minutes to prepare this dish, excluding the oven time. You can prepare the salad and supervise the table setting while it bakes.