Growing up in middle America in the 80’s I did what most children did around this time of year. I made pilgrim and Indian headbands out of coloured construction paper and traced my hand to make turkeys; labeling each finger/plume with something I was thankful for etc. It was many years before I was made aware of the history and historical whitewashing around what was, and will continue to be, my favourite holiday in the calendar year (other than my birthday of course), Thanksgiving. In fact, it wasn’t until high school that the curtain was pulled back ever so slightly to reveal facts around what was really America’s history. My feelings around the holiday became understandably conflicted.
Upon moving to New Mexico in my early twenties, enveloped in a culture so heavily influenced by the nineteen Native American Pueblos residing within the state, I knew for certain never again would I repeat the stories told to me in elementary school around the holiday. They just weren’t true. Instead, I would work to embody the spirit of the things I loved about the holiday itself; the opportunity and excuse to slow down, to spend time with loved ones, and to create a celebratory feast; aspects that seem to repeat themselves in different ways amongst all cultures. Lunar New Year, Passover, Christmas, Diwali, Ramadan all contain elements around the celebration of family, food, and connection. In fact, these three things feel more like the universal elements of humanity itself rather than restricted to one specific holiday or culture; the glue that continually reunites and reminds us how lucky we are to have the capacity to appreciate our experiences.
This casserole, which feels more like a steamed pudding in texture, was originally served by my mother at Passover in the springtime and was always one of my very favourite things she would put on the seder table (charoset being a close second). Given the seasonality of the ingredients, however, I’d like to make a case that this dish would be perfect for a Thanksgiving dinner as well.
During the time period of “the first Thanksgiving”, the pre-contact Native American diet was very different than what we might recognise on the current day holiday table. A diet free from dairy, beef, pork and wheat. No macaroni and cheese, no butter-laden mashed potatoes or dinner rolls. I am not suggesting we bear in mind authenticity when creating our holiday feast menu, as clearly we jumped that shark a very, very long time ago, I’m simply saying that given the circumstances, you could make a case for any and all dishes you choose to serve. Keeping in mind the seasonality when choosing your ingredients, however, will not only make for a better dish but also might serve in some small way, an acknowledgment of one of the core principles of Native American culture; the connection and gratitude to the land. It is Thanksgiving after all.
Don’t forget to harvest your marshmallow trees while they’re still in bloom!
Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 6 as a side dish or dessert
*note this dish is naturally on the sweet side, due to its ingredients. I reduced the sugar of the original recipe by half, but feel free to reduce it further if you like.
2 – 3 medium-sized apples, peeled and grated
2-3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
2-3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and grated
120g or 1 cup self-raising flour
100g or 1/2 cup brown sugar
115g or 1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Grate all fruit and veg either in a food processor or by hand (if you like self-inflicted punishment). In a large bowl combine with sugar, spices, flour and melted butter and mix until evenly combined. Tip into a 10″ or 25cm lidded casserole, set into the middle shelf of an oven preheated to 375F/190C and bake covered for up to one hour. You’ll know the dish is done when the sides have begun to form a crust but the centre remains soft and slightly wobbly. Leave to cool for 15-20 minutes before serving