Thanksgiving Staples: A History of Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Pie

Mashed potato and sweet potato recipes are Thanksgiving staples, but what’s the history of these unmissable dishes?

It turns out that neither mashed nor sweet potatoes made an appearance at the first Thanksgiving table in 1621. In the centuries since that historic meal, though, they’ve become essential parts of Thanksgiving dinners.

The History of Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes

Could you imagine Thanksgiving without sweet potato pie now? The first Thanksgiving most likely had plenty of pumpkin, but not a sweet potato in sight.

The first Thanksgiving took place in Massachusetts, where sweet potatoes don’t typically grow. Native Americans did eat sweet potatoes, but that was mostly in the southern part of the soon-to-be-United States and in South America. It’s much more likely that the guests at that first Thanksgiving table ate ate pumpkin pie instead of sweet potato pie.

Sweet potatoes became part of the Thanksgiving tradition more than 150 years later. The first pumpkin pie was actually developed in France in 1653, and it wasn’t in any American cookbooks until 1796. Sweet potatoes grow very well in the warm, humid south, and pumpkin pie began to showing up alongside (or instead of!) pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table in the years after that.

Now sweet potatoes are in more than just pies on the Thanksgiving table. From sweet potato casseroles to fresh sweet potato salads, our Thanksgiving traditions and holiday menu are still evolving.

Mashed Potatoes: A Thanksgiving History

When it comes to Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes are the star of the show, but no Thanksgiving meal is complete without a big bowl of creamy mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes became an American staple in the 1700s. Potatoes are a native North American food that are easy to grow, filling, healthy, and affordable. As far back as 1747, Americans were mashing up potatoes with butter, milk, salt, and cream, and dishing them up on the Thanksgiving table.

Today, Americans continue to enjoy potatoes and sweet potatoes with their families on Thanksgiving each and every year. And we’re quite proud of that! Happy Thanksgiving!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Brown Eyed Baker on Flickr

Thanksgiving Recipe: Stuffed Sweet Potato Skins

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Dish

These baked sweet potato skins are a healthier take on a traditional sweet potato casserole. Most sweet potato casseroles use peeled sweets and plenty of butter. Our Thanksgiving recipe is lower in fat, but just as satisfying. The best part? Unlike most sweet potato casserole recipes, this one uses healthy sweet potato skins. Why does saving the skins make this recipe healthier? There’s a lot of nutritional value in those skins, so when you can, leave ’em on, and eat ’em up!

One sweet potato with the skin on is a tasty treat that’s packed with nutrition. It’s got four grams of fiber, two grams of protein, and over 400 percent of your daily value for vitamin A. Not too shabby for a little orange spud! Your family will love these single-serving stuffed sweet potatoes so much that they won’t even notice that you snuck a healthy Thanksgiving recipe into the spread.

Stuffed Sweet Potato Skins Recipe

Yield: serves 8; Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: about 35-40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 Express Bake Sweet PotatOHs
  • 3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 bag of marshmallows

Directions

1. Cook the Sweet PotatOHs in the microwave according to the package instructions. While the potatoes cook, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. When the PotatOHs are cool enough to handle, slice them in half lengthwise and scoop out most of the flesh.

Scooped Sweet Potatoes

3. In a large bowl, mash the sweet potato flesh with the pineapple, brown sugar, and orange juice.

4. Spoon the potato mixture back into the potato skins.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

5. Top each one with a few marshmallows.

6. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the marshmallows turn slightly brown on top.

Thanksgiving Recipes: Healthy Potato and Sweet Potato Dishes and Desserts

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Potatoes and sweet potatoes can help you create healthy and delicious Thanksgiving recipes that your family will love.

Whether we’re talking soups and casseroles or appetizers and sides, potatoes and sweet potatoes are a staple at the Thanksgiving table. They’re versatile, easy to cook with, and – maybe best of all – kid-friendly. 

We’ve rounded up some simple Thanksgiving recipes to help you with all of your holiday meal-planning needs.

Soups and Salads

Thanksgiving dinners can be on the heavy side, but with the help of healthy potatoes and sweet potatoes, you can lighten them up.

Creamy Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – The best part of this soup? It’s actually better if you make it in advance. That means less cooking on Thanksgiving day! Just pour it into a pot on the day-of, and turn on the stove to warm it up.

Cauliflower Herb Soup – This creamy soup packs a punch of healthy veggies! For a vegetarian version, just use vegetable broth in place of chicken and leave out the ham.

Light and Lively Fingerling Potato Salad – Kick off your meal with a green salad that even the kids will eat. Filling potatoes make this salad kid- and adult-friendly.

Traditional Appetizers and Side Dishes

Of course, your guests are going to expect at least a couple of more traditional Thanksgiving recipes. Here are a couple of healthy spins on Thanksgiving classics.

Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole – This dish can be loaded with butter and cream, but you can serve up a lighter version that’s just as delicious.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes – Save even more time and make this recipe even healthier by choosing thin-skinned potatoes like our Gold Jubileez, and mashing them with the skins on. You can cook them in the microwave in a fraction of the time.

Braided Sweet Potato Cornbread – This bread is a little bit sweet and a little bit savory.

Old Fashioned Potato Biscuits – If sweet potato bread isn’t your thing, serve up these buttery biscuits instead.

Potato-Bread Stuffing – The vegetarians at the table will thank you for including some not-in-the-bird stuffing for them to enjoy.

Main Dishes

Here are some Thanksgiving recipes that are a little bit less traditional but will save you time  and calories! We’ve even got a couple of suggestions for feeding your vegetarian and vegan guests.

Roast Turkey Breast with Potatoes and Green Beans – Instead of a whole turkey, roast up just the breast. It’s quicker, easier, and you can scale this Thanksgiving recipe up to feed as many guests as you need to.

Lentil Walnut Loaf with Sweet Potatoes – A veggie loaf is a filling main dish for your vegetarian and vegan guests. Even the omnivores at the table are going to want a slice of this, so make sure you cook enough for everyone!

Seitan Pot Roast – Seitan is a vegan meat substitute made with wheat gluten, and you can find it at many health food stores. This recipe roasts with potatoes and other veggies in a rich gravy.

Desserts

Of course, no Thanksgiving meal is complete without something sweet to top things off. Here are some healthier versions of traditional Thanksgiving dessert recipes.

Sweet Potato Pie – Your guests will never guess that this is a lower-fat version of the Thanksgiving classic.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake – Sweet potatoes replace some of the fat in this pound cake recipe without taking away from the richness.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving recipes? Share yours in the comments!