Kevin Patrick Law - November 2020

Which One Is Your Thanksgiving Staple? Sweet Potato Casserole vs. Sweet Potato Pie


Would you believe that Thanksgiving dinner — a meal dedicated to home cooking, family time, and, well, being thankful — was directly responsible for the invention of the TV dinner, the ultimate

It seems like every year, polls declare something different as each state’s favorite Thanksgiving staple. This is all in good fun, but we’ve noticed that while other states swoon over roasted turkey and green bean casserole, for years now, a battle of the sweet potatoes has been raging in Georgia. In 2017, General Mills declared that Georgia's most-searched Thanksgiving recipe on its websites was sweet potato casserole. Odds are you’ve dug into this rich, marshmallow-topped dish before. The way the marshmallows melt into the sweet potatoes is a sugar lover's dream, and there’s just something charming about throwing junk food on top of vegetables. Here’s a fun fact for you: Sweet potato casserole has been in vogue since the early 1900s, but it might be the result of clever marketing and not an innovation in Grandma’s kitchen. According to Saveur, the first recipe for the dish appeared in a booklet that was produced by — wait for it — Angelus Marshmallows, with the goal of boosting sales. Whether the original recipe was spontaneous or strategic, there’s no doubt Georgians love their sweet potato casserole … or is it sweet potato pie? Enter the competition. Two years after sweet potato casserole was declared the Peach State’s favorite Turkey Day side dish, an analysis of Google Trends search terms found that sweet potato pie was our most-Googled Thanksgiving dessert . What intrigue! Of course, as any Georgian knows, sweet potato pie is an entirely different dish, not too far off from the pumpkin pie that makes appearances on TV. It’s baked in a crust and topped with whipped cream, generally without a marshmallow in sight, and has its own unique pedigree. Digging into this history made us curious: Which of these dishes is YOUR Thanksgiving staple? Are you a die-hard fan of sweet potatoes in casserole or pie form? Or does your family double up every Thanksgiving? Let us know by emailing Kevin at Kevin@ or posting a picture of your dish on our Facebook page, . We can’t wait to hear what you think!

manifestation of the solitary, processed meal? If you are a little suspicious of that fact, you’re not alone. But, the connection is real. Those little frozen meals on trays were the result of a Turkey Day mix-up of epic proportions. The year was 1953. That fall, the frozen food company C.A. Swanson & Sons drastically overestimated how many Americans would want a turkey as the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving spread, leaving them with about 260 tons of extra turkey packed into 10 refrigerated railroad cars. They needed a way to sell this surplus quickly because they had to keep running the train cars back and forth between the East Coast and the Midwest to generate the electricity needed to keep the turkey from spoiling. The company sent out a bulletin asking if any of their employees had a solution to the problem. Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas had a winning idea. He suggested they package up the remaining turkey with a few sides as frozen dinners that would be ready to eat after being thawed. The twist? They would be served in compartmentalized aluminum trays, much like airplane meals, which were the inspiration for Thomas’ idea. Additionally, they would be marketed as “TV dinners,” with their packaging designed to look like a television set. By 1954, roughly half of American households had TVs. Over the next 10 years, that figure jumped to 92%. As the TV rose in prominence in American living rooms, the TV dinner’s popularity increased exponentially. Swanson sold nearly 10 million of them during the first year of production. By 1959, Americans spent half a billion dollars gobbling up TV dinners. Several other phenomena have been linked to the advent of the TV dinner, such as the erosion of the traditional family dinner and a preference for TV entertainment over family conversation during mealtime. It’s hard to believe it all happened because of one Thanksgiving Day with too much turkey!

You can always reach Kevin directly at 404.566.8964 or (If you ever need it, his cell phone is 404.409.3160.)

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