With the restrictions in mind that we learned in last month’s blog post, let’s take a look at an approved recipe for a Thanksgiving side dish that appeared in the magazine Modern Priscilla in November 1917 (recipe found linked at bottom).
I chose this sweet potato dish because I could easily compare/contrast it to the sweet potato casserole dish (mashed sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar mixture on top) that my family always has at Thanksgiving.
The first thing that struck me was the small amount of sweet potato and apples used. These proportions would easily fit in a 9” x 9” pan. For a dinner of 4-6 people, you would definitely have to take a small portion (which reflects the request of citizens to eat just what you need) for there to be enough to go around. I wanted to use all the sweet potatoes that I had bought, which let me double the recipe and bake in a 9” x 13” pan. Secondly, I was surprised by the amount of brown sugar called for, a ½ cup. My modern sweet potato casserole recipe, baked in a 9” x 13” pan, calls for 1 cup total of sugar (specifically, a ½ cup white sugar mixed into the potatoes and a ½ cup brown sugar for the topping). During WWI, white sugar was a requested rationed item, so the same ratio of sugar used between the two recipes really shows the importance of reducing the white sugar used by the public in WWI instead of all sugars/sweeteners. My family and I thought the WWI recipe was a bit too sweet though. I packed the brown sugar down when measuring it, which is what I’m used to doing for today’s recipes. But, I wonder if it was intended to be a more direct substitute, and I should have just spooned it into the measuring cup without pressing it down as I would do for white sugar. I will try this method the next time I make it to see if we like the ratio better.
The recipe doesn’t address the skins of the apples and sweet potatoes. I opted for peeling the sweet potatoes and not peeling the apples. I also finely chopped my apples instead of thinly slicing. I did this mostly for ease because I have a kitchen chopper but not a mandolin or food processor to make the thin slices easy to accomplish. This may have given some added crunch in my final product than intended, but I liked this contrast with the softness of the sweet potatoes. Since I didn’t slice my apples, I didn’t feel it was necessary to layer the ingredients since the layers would be largely indistinct from each other. For baking, I placed the apples over the sweet potatoes in the pan since they hadn’t been cooked yet and the potatoes had already been boiled. I mixed them together once it finished baking. In hindsight, the layers of the dish is the only attribute that gives it a slightly pretty presentation on the table. The brown sugar and butter melt together with the juice from the apples to form a sauce instead of a topping. I would suggest keeping the layers if this is something that you consider when serving food.
Prettiness of presentation aside, this dish is very tasty and tweaking it to be less sweet will likely cause it to replace the modern sweet potato casserole recipe at Thanksgiving later this year!
Written by Katie Ross, Curator of Collections
Recipe: 1917 Sweet Potatoes with apples