We just checked the official Thanksgiving Rule Book, and in Article 1, Line 3, it clearly states, “Sweet potatoes must be included on the table in order to qualify as a true Thanksgiving feast.” This detailed book covers all the basics: Must have at least one type of stuffing. Each slice of pumpkin pie shall be topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Omitting the green bean casserole is forbidden and will incur penalties. There is also a great section on how to say the appropriate thing when giving thanks, as well as informative chapters on how to deal with drunken relatives. Everything is covered here: from how to quickly and smoothly change the conversation topic from politics to funny youtube videos, to tips on being polite if the turkey happens to be dry. This delicious recipe has been a tradition in Ryan’s family for over 40 years, and Thanksgiving truly wouldn’t be the same without it. And according to the official Rule Book, this dish qualifies as the perfect sweet potato casserole: filled with tender sweet potatoes tossed with fresh ripe cranberries, covered with a cinnamon and brown sugar oat crumble, and baked until the cranberries soften and burst, releasing their ruby-colored juice, which bubbles under the crisp, crunchy warmly-spiced topping.
Classic candied yams with toasted marshmallows were a childhood favorite. When the marshmallows were cooked just right, it didn’t seem imaginable that any other sweet potatoes could compare. This recipe actually started out similar to that. When Ryan’s mom cut it out of a magazine in the early 1970’s, it was a sweet casserole that was more of a dessert than a side. Over the years, she has made changes, and perfected this side dish that balances sweet, tart, and savory, giving it more depth and Thanksgiving flavor than the original. Amongst our extended family, kids and adults alike, this has become an annual tradition, and is always the first thing to disappear on everyone’s plates.
Using canned sweet potatoes is ideal, because it keeps the prep time under 15 minutes. Rather than using fresh sweet potatoes that need to be washed, peeled, diced, fully cooked, and cooled, you simply open a can. This is much easier, especially during Thanksgiving when there are multiple dishes to prepare and time is limited. If you have ever tried a fresh cranberry, you know that they are almost inedible raw: razor-tart, slightly bitter, and crunchy. But after they cook, they become soft, tangy, and lose their unpleasant bitterness. Without these vibrant red fruits—full of vitamins and nutrients—the dish would be unbalanced and overly sweet. This holiday is about giving thanks, being with friends and family, and celebrating together with delicious food. And as the Thanksgiving Rule Book insightfully declares on the very first page, the only thing that truly matters is to be thankful. This special time of year is a reminder for us to look within ourselves and realize all the wonderful things we have to be thankful for, as they can easily be forgotten in our busy day-to-day lives.
Baked Sweet Potatoes and Cranberries with a Cinnamon-Oat Crumble
serves 8 to 10 as a side
58 ounces (1644g) canned sweet potatoes (2 large cans, see note)
1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (213g) dark brown sugar
1 cup (84g) rolled oats
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
10 tablespoons (142g) salted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces (227g / about 2 heaping cups) fresh cranberries
Preheat oven to 350°F. Drain the canned sweet potatoes, reserving the liquid in a measuring cup. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon, and stir until evenly blended. Add the butter, and use a pastry knife or your fingers to cut the butter into the oat mixture until the largest pieces of butter are the size of large peas.
In a large bowl, combine the drained sweet potatoes and the cranberries, and toss. Add two cups of the oat mixture, and stir well. The mixture should coat the sweet potatoes as you toss it, and the mixture should appear moist, not dry. If it seems dry, you can add some of the reserved canned liquid, a tablespoon at a time. The mixture should be evenly moist, but there shouldn’t be any liquid collecting at the bottom of the bowl—we usually add 1-3 tablespoons of water. Transfer the sweet potato mixture to a 2 1/2-quart baking dish, and spread it evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture on top of the sweet potatoes. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the sides are bubbly. Serve hot, and enjoy!
— To make this vegan, simply use a vegan butter substitute.
— If using fresh sweet potatoes, use 37 ounces (1050g / about 2 1/3 pounds) of potatoes. Peel and cut into 1-inch dice, and bake on a baking sheet at 400°F/204°C for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife. Let cool, then proceed with the recipe as directed. When tossing the mixture, if it seems dry, simply add water instead of the canning liquid as directed.
— If using unsalted butter, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the oat mixture.
— UPDATED 1/1/20, a few small changes for clarity