November 24, 2008


One Thanksgiving, my sister invited the entire family to her home in Charlottesville, VA for the weekend. Everyone was assigned a dish to bring for the main feast. My Mom brought her famous dressing, I made my soon-to-be-famous turkey-shaped sweet potato biscuits, and my sister-in-law was in charge of the big bird. We were all expected for dinner the night before Thanksgiving, but my brother and his wife ran into traffic and didn’t arrive until about 9:30 that night.

My sister-in-law had some prep work to do on the turkey, so as soon as they settled in, she began scurrying around my sister’s kitchen. Big snag! No bacon grease. Turns out, the secret to my sister-in-law’s juicy, delicious turkey was that she slathered the bird with bacon grease before roasting. She was absolutely appalled that my sister, who claimed to be a Southerner, didn’t have any bacon grease. In those days, any Southern cook worth her salt had a coffee can sitting on the back of the stove for collecting drippings after frying a batch of bacon.

Luckily, my sister did have a pound of bacon in the fridge, so we uncorked a bottle of crisp, cold, dry white wine and set about the task of creating bacon grease. Before long, the free-flowing wine and the smell of the bacon frying made us ravenous. Suddenly it occurred to us that our only job was to create grease. And all that crispy bacon was just a scrumptious byproduct! Out came the sweet potato biscuits and a hunk of sharp cheddar and, within a matter of moments, a family food memory was born, and a Thanksgiving tradition created.



Of course, you don’t have to cut the biscuits into turkey shapes. These beauties will taste just as good if you simply pat out the dough and cut it into squares with a knife.

(Makes 14 – 16 two-inch biscuits)



2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon each cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg

¼ cup cold butter, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 cup baked and mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium sweet potato)

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons maple syrup

16 slices crisp fried bacon

Sliced sharp cheddar




  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the chilled butter pieces and, with an electric mixer on low speed (or your fingers) cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Stir together the mashed sweet potato, milk and maple syrup. With a wooden spoon, stir the potato mixture into the flour mixture until dough starts to form in clumps. Add a tablespoon or so of milk if the mixture is too dry. Do not overmix.
  3. Turn the clumps out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead once or twice until the dough comes together. Roll or pat the dough out into a 1/2 –inch thickness. Cut out shapes with a 2-inch cutter dipped in flour. Gently pat the scraps together and repeat with the remaining dough. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 – 12 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. While still slightly warm, split biscuits and fill each with a strip of crisp bacon (broken into thirds to fit on biscuit) and a slice of sharp cheddar. Serve immediately.



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