The Way Thanksgiving Is Supposed To Taste

Here it comes.

The family strife.

The mess of our differences.

All found At the bottom

Of a casserole dish.

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I’m talking, Dear Reader, about


And Sweet potatoes.

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How do you love yours?

Are your sweet potatoes mashed?

In a pie?

Squished into a casserole dish?

Dare I even broach a topic more prickly than some which have divided nations? I will only whisper the word–topping.

“To marshmallow or not to marshmallow?  That is the question.” Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 4.25.08 PM

Because we share these things, you and I, I will tell I’m about to smash head onto one of the most disappointing things about my family. For years, I dreamed of having my own family, making Thanksgiving Dinner. Of course, the centerpiece would the dish that I grew up looking forward to all year long. My mother’s sweet potato casserole.

mom's sweet pots

Her sweet potatoes are a sugar shock hot mess of wonderfulness. They start with giant cans of candied yams, smashed into submission with tons of brown sugar, butter, a little bit of orange rind to give it some zip and crushed pineapple to add to the texture and make it even sweeter. All that gets baked in a giant casserole dish and the piece de resistance—topped with giant melted marshmallows. To eat it is to love it and put on about 12 pounds per serving.

The first time I made it for my husband and kids was a life moment come true. Only one problem. They hated it.

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Hated it!

It has become a family joke how much they hate my beloved dish. “Who puts pineapple in sweet potatoes?” is the never-ending punch line. Stop by our house around Easter, they’ll still be laughing about my sweet potatoes.

It hurts, yet I know I’m not any better than they are.

None of us are.

Don’t you have a certain way your holiday food is supposed to taste? Your grandmother’s lumpy gravy? Your aunt’s lime green Jello mold?

Let’s face it—holidays aren’t some independent taste test. They are our fuzzy golden memories imprinted on our palates. Anything different than what was, just tastes wrong.

I know in my single years, I was invited to some perfectly lovely holiday dinners. Each time the sweet potatoes stuck in my throat like trying to swallow a boulder. It wasn’t the taste. It just wasn’t my taste.

You don’t want to come to our Thanksgiving this year. I’ll be serving some concoction of pineapple-less sweet potato blandness that will satisfy those people I now call my family. Funny thing is, it will probably become my kids’ golden taste memory.

Sometime before the end of the month, I’ll whip myself up a pan of  my mom’s sweet potatoes just like I remember them. My Thanksgiving gift to myself. I’ll shovel them down as I read your email. The one where you tell me how you like your sweet potatoes. Where you share the holiday dish that divides your family.

Your stories will make my Sweet Potato Party For One Taste all the sweeter.

Find more uplifting stories on my website,

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.




  • Joni Morphonios - Atlanta, GA

    I love love love your recipe for sweet potatoes and have been making the same recipe as yours for years. Yummy!

  • Ken Kuykendall

    I think I would like your Mom’s casserole! If you make it I will eat it!! My Mom had a good recipe too!

  • Jan Warren

    I like pecans added to your recipe. Yummy!

  • Jan–My mother-in-law would like it your way. She loves anything with a pecan. Thanks for the inspiration!

The Way Thanksgiving Is Supposed To Taste

by DarynKagan time to read: 2 min
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